University of Michigan Researchers Get $2 million Grant for Developing Algae-Based Biodiesel


A team of researchers from the University of Michigan have been granted $2 million by the US Energy department as funding for their research into algae-based biofuel for diesel engines. The team is one of the few in the world working to solve the problem from ‘end-to-end’.

Live microalgae used in research to develop biodiesel fuel.
Photo by Joseph Xu, from Michigan Engineering. Sourced from Michigan News.

The Department of Energy is keen on finding solutions to fossil fuel emissions, specifically those coming from the transportation sector. Funding this research into algae biofuels is a step in line with its mission to reduce the demand for more polluting fuel types. According to the DOE, algae has the potential to produce billions of gallons a year of renewable fuel, with possibilities to be refined into diesel, gasoline, even jet fuel. The University of Michigan’s research is part of the effort to meeting the Renewable Fuel Standards, which outline that by 2020, 36 billion gallons of the United State’s transportation fuels must come from blended sources. Only 15 million of those can come from corn-based ethanol, leaving a sizeable gap between current production and what is needed. Algae fuels are poised to make up the difference.

A statement from the U of M research team says that they intend to collaborate with Penn State University researchers as they continue their project. The focus of the research is on finding viable alternatives to conventional diesel fuel. The team has been exploring the potential of algae for this purpose.

Traditional diesel fuel are a kind of fossil fuel derived from petroleum. These emit large amounts of greenhouse gas during their combustion. Algae-based biofuels do not have the same issue, and are thus viewed as the environmentally friendly alternative to the fossil fuel. Algae-bassed fuels have the potential to reduce emissions by as much as 60%, compared to regular diesel oil.

“It’s a project with big research questions,” said André Boehman, a Mechanical Engineering professor from University of Michigan and director of the school’s W.E. Lay Automotive Laboratory. “And it has the chance to do something that is very impactful—help us take a big step toward sustainability.”

The research holistically approaches the development of algae-based fuel, covering cultivation to fuel production. Crop failure of algae cultures is a roadblock to developing commercially viable algae biofuel.

Bradley Cardinale, a Biology professor at the University of Michigan, says that the researchers are “one of the first teams in the world to go all the way from designing sustainable biofuel feedstocks in outdoor ponds, to refining fuel so that it runs a diesel engine in a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way.”

[Source: Michigan NewsAP News]

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