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Volume 92 Issue 8 | p. 39
Issue Date: February 24, 2014

Growth For Algae-Based Biofuels

Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: algae, biobutanol, biofuels, cellulosic, renewable fuels
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Unitel’s hydrolysis reactor could reduce the energy required to make biofuels from algae.
Credit: Unitel Technologies
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Unitel’s hydrolysis reactor could reduce the energy required to make biofuels from algae.
Credit: Unitel Technologies

Another area of active R&D interest involves using algae as a feedstock for biofuels. Compared with other feedstocks, algae contain more biofuel lipid precursors per unit area, grow faster, and can be harvested quicker. Scientists are eager to reduce the amount of energy it takes to extract these lipids from the algae. This process typically involves removing the water from the algae, then extracting the lipids.

A 2013 patent application from Unitel Technologies (U.S. Patent Application No. 20130287917) describes a process that bypasses these two energy-intensive steps. The researchers use a specialized hydrolysis reactor to make fatty acids directly from a slurry of water and cultivated algae. The process converts the algal lipids to their component fatty acids, which can be used to manufacture biofuels and other products. The researchers suggest that the water stream containing the lipids’ glycerol backbone can be recycled to promote phytoplankton growth and the remaining algal biomass can potentially be used as an ingredient in animal feed.

 

Patent Picks is a collaborative effort by C&EN and CAS. This feature reports on trends CAS scientists observe from patents in the CAS databases, which now generate more than 70% of the new substances appearing in the literature.

 
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