Re­searchers to use al­gae to make diesel fuel

Lodi News-Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Eric D. Lawrence

ANN AR­BOR, Mich. — The vial of fuel that An­dre Boehman and Bradley Car­di­nale are try­ing to fill would fit four times into a two-liter bot­tle of Faygo Red­pop.

The Univer­sity of Michi­gan pro­fes­sors and their team will try to do this for $2.5 mil­lion, most of it from a U.S. Depart­ment of En­ergy grant.

When they’ve fin­ished the project in three years, Boehman, Car­di­nale and the rest of the team, in­clud­ing re­searchers from Penn State and the Univer­sity of Delaware, hope to pro­vide one pos­si­ble so­lu­tion to the chal­lenges of cli­mate change and pol­lu­tion.

And the root of their ef­forts is a liv­ing or­gan­ism – al­gae.

The grant will help pay for the team’s plans to sep­a­rate oil from al­gae into a vi­able diesel fuel blend, one that is pri­mar­ily a re­new­able en­ergy source.

With a United Na­tions panel warn­ing this month of the need for “rapid and far-reach­ing” changes to limit global warm­ing im­pacts, al­gal fuel could be an an­swer, said Boehman, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer and di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s W.E. Lay Au­to­mo­tive Lab­o­ra­tory.

"We have to start mak­ing ... faster moves for re­duc­ing our car­bon foot­print,” Boehman said.

“And one of the most ef­fec­tive ways of re­duc­ing our car­bon foot­print, which could be put into ef­fect al­most im­me­di­ately, is to burn lower-car­bon fu­els in the ve­hi­cles we have to­day.

That may take a decade or a gen­er­a­tion to make it hap­pen at scale, but we need tech­nolo­gies that are scal­able, and that’s where Brad comes in.”

Car­di­nale, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity, has been grow­ing al­gae in ar­ti­fi­cial ponds in the Pinck­ney area.

His chal­lenge is to grow a sta­ble crop of al­gae, which can be turned over to chem­i­cal en­gi­neers and then to Boehman for use in a diesel en­gine.

The team’s ap­proach to pick­ing the right species of al­gae from the “hun­dreds of thou­sands” in ex­is­tence is through soft, or eco­log­i­cal, en­gi­neer­ing, Car­di­nale said.

“In­stead of fight­ing against na­ture to grow these al­gal bio­fu­els ... maybe we should work with Mother Na­ture be­cause she’s had about 3 bil­lion years of evo­lu­tion to cre­ate things that are highly pro­duc­tive,” Car­di­nale said.

The group will try to set­tle on a species that can re­sist dis­ease and grow con­sis­tently in large enough vol­umes and has the chem­i­cal prop­er­ties which work well in en­gines.

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