Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

The green machine: Algae clean wastewater, convert to biodiesel

The green machine: Algae clean wastewater, convert to biodiesel

201102/algaepictureweb.jpg

Professor Jeff Lodge and graduate student Eric Lannan explore algae as a biodiesel fuel.

From a February 17 2011 Eureka news alert

(Rochester Institute of Technology) Researchers at RIT are developing biodiesel from microalgae grown in wastewater. The project is doubly “green” because algae consume nitrates and phosphates and reduce bacteria and toxins in the water. The end result: clean wastewater and stock for a promising biofuel.

RIT researchers take algae out of the lab

Let algae do the dirty work.

Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are developing biodiesel from microalgae grown in wastewater. The project is doubly “green” because algae consume nitrates and phosphates and reduce bacteria and toxins in the water. The end result: clean wastewater and stock for a promising biofuel.

The purified wastewater can be channeled back into receiving bodies of water at treatment plants, while the biodiesel can fuel buses, construction vehicles and farm equipment. Algae could replace diesel’s telltale black puffs of exhaust with cleaner emissions low in the sulfur and particulates that accompany fossil fuels.

Algae have a lot of advantages. They are cheaper and faster to grow than corn, which requires nutrient-rich soil, fertilizer and insecticide. Factor in the fuel used to harvest and transport corn and ethanol starts to look complicated.

In contrast, algae are much simpler organisms. They use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into energy. They need only water—ponds or tanks to grow in—sunlight and carbon dioxide.

“Algae—as a renewable feedstock—grow a lot quicker than crops of corn or soybeans,” says Eric Lannan, who is working on his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at RIT. “We can start a new batch of algae about every seven days. It’s a more continuous source that could offset 50 percent of our total gas use for equipment that uses diesel.”

Cold weather is an issue for biodiesel fuels.

“The one big drawback is that biodiesel does freeze at a higher temperature,” says Jeff Lodge, associate professor of biological sciences at RIT. “It doesn’t matter what kind of diesel fuel you have, if it gets too cold, the engine’s not starting. It gels up. It’s possible to blend various types of biodiesel—algae derived with soybeans or some other type—to generate a biodiesel with a more favorable pour point that flows easily.”

Lannan’s graduate research in biofuels led him to Lodge’s biology lab. With the help of chemistry major Emily Young, they isolated and extracted valuable fats, or lipids, algae produce and yielded tiny amounts of a golden-colored biodiesel. They are growing the alga strain Scenedesmus, a single-cell organism, using wastewater from the Frank E. Van Lare Wastewater Treatment Plant in Irondequoit, N.Y.

“It’s key to what we’re doing here,” Lodge says. “Algae will take out all the ammonia—99 percent—88 percent of the nitrate and 99 percent of the phosphate from the wastewater — all those nutrients you worry about dumping into the receiving water. In three to five days, pathogens are gone. We’ve got data to show that the coliform counts are dramatically reduced below the level that’s allowed to go out into Lake Ontario.”

Lodge and Lannan ramped up their algae production from 30 gallons of wastewater in a lab at RIT to 100 gallons in a 4-foot-by-7-foot long tank at Environmental Energy Technologies, an RIT spinoff. Lannan’s graduate thesis advisor Ali Ogut, professor of mechanical engineering, is the company’s president and CTO. In the spring, the researchers will build a mobile greenhouse at the Irondequoit wastewater treatment plant and scale up production to as much as 1,000 gallons of wastewater.

Northern Biodiesel, located in Wayne County, will purify the lipids from the algae and convert them into biodiesel for the RIT researchers.

Advertisements

February 19, 2011 - Posted by | Public Health | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] The green machine: Algae clean wastewater, convert to biodiesel (jflahiff.wordpress.com) April 4th, 2011 | Tags: biodiesel, Dining, Facilities and Services, Sustainability, University of Rochester | Category: Go Green, Sustainability, Transportation […]

    Pingback by All Aboard UR’s Biodiesel Bus Program « The Green Dandelion | April 17, 2011 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: