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The new breakthrough could increase the yield of algae bioreactors, decreasing the cost of algae-derived biofuels.  (Source: Treehugger)
New procedure could yield richer harvest of algae

While fusion power remains one of the most promising long-term power goals, another optimal future energy source may be algae.  Syracuse University’s Radhakrishna Sureshkumar, professor and chair of biomedical and chemical engineering describes, "Algae produce triglycerides, which consist of fatty acids and glycerin. The fatty acids can be turned into biodiesel while the glycerin is a valuable byproduct."

In the future, farms of algae tanks may provide affordable fuel capable of sustaining the auto industry without switching to scarce rare earth metals or radical redesigns.  However, a key challenge is to maximize algae growth and minimize the growth of parasitic organisms.

Green algae uses electro-active pigments Chlorophyll a and b, along with carotenoids, to capture sunlight.  That capture covers a very specific range of the visible light, namely the blue-violet spectrum.  By targeting them with that specific light, their growth can be sped up, while other types of undesirable photosynthetic microbes can be eliminated.

Professor Sureshkumar and SU chemical engineering Ph.D. student Satvik Wani have made an advance towards that objective.  By creating a suspension of silver nanoparticles, the researchers were able to backscatter blue light into an algae growing chamber, preventing more photons from escaping.  The increased exposure to the visible light's blue range led to a 30 percent increase in algal growth.

The pair found that growth could be maximized by optimizing the concentration of suspended nanoparticles and their size.  Professor Sureshkumar comments, "Implementation of easily tunable wavelength specific backscattering on larger scales still remains a challenge, but its realization will have a substantial impact on the efficient harvesting of phototrophic microorganisms and reducing parasitic growth.  Devices that can convert light not utilized by the algae into the useful blue spectral regime can also be envisioned."

The breakthrough could lead to advanced algae growing tanks that first filter light through a suspension of silver nanoparticles.  Silver nanoparticles are today commonly used in electronics, optics, wound dressings, and more for their unique properties.  They're also being evaluated as a possible treatment for HIV-1 [PDF].

The researchers published their work in the August 2010 edition of the prestigious journal 
Nature.



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All solutions needed...
By joe4324 on 8/30/2010 11:27:02 PM , Rating: 2
I feel its just too early to make blanket comparisons between all these technologies in regards to being "the solution". Until a lot of this technology matures I think there is still too many unanswered questions needed.

I think one thing most people don't consider is just how much energy it takes to push a car around. Its absolutely incredible. When you really get down to the numbers, kilowatts/calories/etc.

I live off-grid, I essentially power my entire home on waste veggie oil via a 6hp Lister generator. I have two chest fridges, run lights, fans, loud music, power tools all the time (still building) and anywhere from 1-5 laptops on for at least a couple hours a day (usually more) all this still uses between 1-2 Kilowatts MAX, The only time its more is when I cook a lot of food on pure electric (induction).

My logged fuel consumption is about .125 gallons per hour at 20% load (high avg) so basically a PINT of waste cooking oil per hour. Totally actually I ran the generator for 3 hours. Consumed 1.5 quarts of oil. Charged my batteries up for the rest of the day (plus some) moved about 400 gallons of water out of my well and provided all the hot water I could use in a day. FROM 1.5 QUARTS!

At best with my tri-gen setup I'm able to get (at best!) maybe 65,000 BTU's of 'energy' out of the 115,000 or so BTU in a gallon of cooking oil. I'm probably not even getting that. And most of that comes from using the waste motor heat to heat water.

Then I hop in my car, and drive 24 miles round trip to town and burn about a gallon of veggie oil. More than twice as much and the car was only on for 30 minutes!

I think Algae has great promise for me, If I had something the size of a 30 tube evacuated solar heater (the setup in this photo) and it made me say only 1 gallon a day or whatever of useful waste oil, I could live a whole year of a modest living on the 200 gallons of oil the Algae gave me for the 6-7 months it was warm enough outside to grow it.

Having needs as basic as mine is doable to even cultivate a couple-few acres devoted to oil production and supply a good portion of my 200 gallons. But that is so much more work than picking it up behind the Chinese buffet.




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