The Daily Scoop: Microbubbles Cut Cost of Algae-Derived Biofuel

Some positve news on the biofuel front.

Algae naturally produce oil. When it’s processed, that oil can be turned into biofuel, an alternative energy source. There’s just one snag—harvesting the oil from algae-filled water is prohibitively expensive. But researchers have come up with an effervescent solution: bubbles smaller than the width of a human hair can help reduce the costs of collecting algae oil.

So-called microbubbles are already used for water purification—they surround contaminants and float them out of the liquid. Similarly, in water containing algae, bubbles can float the algae to the surface for easy collection and processing.

The research builds on previous work that used microbubbles to grow algae more densely and thus increase production. This time, however, the researchers produced the fizziness with a new method that uses far less energy, and is cheaper to install. The study is in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering. [James Hanotu, HC Hemaka Bandulasena and William B Zimmerman, Microflotation performance for algal separation]

Although microbubbles improve algae harvesting in the lab, they still have to work at larger scales. The researchers are planning a pilot program for an algae biofuel plant, in the hope of making really green energy.
60-Second Science from Scientific American

Partha Das Sharma Weblog

From Partha Das Sharma Weblog


3 Comments to “The Daily Scoop: Microbubbles Cut Cost of Algae-Derived Biofuel”

  1. Came across this paper the other day, its an interesting idea but I have a hard time believing it will work at scale, and even if it does, harvesting is less than half the battle with algae. The oil has to be extracted, and I have yet to see a convincing solution on how to properly grow the algae (ie open ponds vs. photobioreactors). I love algae, don’t get me wrong. But they have a long way to go before they’ll be an economically feasible biofuel feedstock.

    • It seems the microbubbles idea increases the efficacy for harvesting the oil. I’m sure there’s plenty of details to be worked out there for large scale operation.
      I can see how there’s differing ideas as to HOW to grow the algae. I’m sure some are more effective than others. You sound like you’ve looked into these methods more than I have. I do know that a utility company in Arizona has been utilizing algae for a while. Well they were. I don’t know what stage they are at now. I found a couple of press releases about it. You might find interesting if you hadn’t heard of it before.

      You’re right, there may be a ways to go but then again this new method may boost the current efforts. I’m optimistic 🙂

      Thanks for the comments.

      • Thanks for the links. I’ve heard that idea tossed around before but its good to see it has been demonstrated in the field. The biggest problem with it is the sheer amount of space it takes up. Algae grown in ponds rely on sunlight for photosynthesis, which means they can only get to a very low concentration in the pond before they shade themselves. Mixing ups that, but only to a point. So to get enough algae to make it worthwhile, you need a big pond. The alternative is to grow them in photobioreactors, which is a fancy word for a tank with lights in it. That eliminates the self shading and space issues, but the capital costs associated are much, much larger. These are the types of issues that need to be addressed. But every other biofuel out there has its own issues as well, and research like the paper you cited is critical to bringing these fuels online. Thanks for sharing! If you are interested in stuff like this, I’d recommend checking out Biofuels Digest for really great coverage of what is going on in the biofuels industry.

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