Converting algae to biofuel could be a sustainable solution to the need for liquid fuel in the United States, according to U-M researchers. Scientists in the chemical engineering department are working to create an effective method for converting the plant, which can be harvested continuously and grown in any water condition.
Phil Savage (http://che.engin.umich.edu/people/savage.html) is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemical Engineering (http://che.engin.umich.edu/) at the University of Michigan. His research focus is on energy production from renewable resources, developing novel processes for converting biomass hydrogen, methane, and liquid transportation fuels.
Savage's ocean-going organism of choice is the green marine micro-alga of the genus Nannochloropsis. To make their one-minute biocrude, Savage and Julia Faeth, a doctoral student in Savage's lab, filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae's temperature should have just grazed the 550-degree mark before the team pulled the reactor back out. Previously, Savage and his team heated the algae for times ranging from 10 to 90 minutes. They saw their best results, with about half of the algae converted to biocrude, after treating it for 10 to 40 minutes at 570 degrees.