Office of Technology Transfer – University of Michigan

Biodiesel Synthesis Turns Wet Algae to Energy as Algae Biofuel

Technology #4687

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Micro algae biodiesel synthesisPeigao Duan, a graduate student in professor Phillip Savage's lab, holds a vial of bio oil.biodiesel synthesis of algal biofuelbiofuel synthesis from algae
Phillip E. Savage
Managed By
Keith Hughes
Assistant Director, Physical Sciences & Engineering 734-764-9429
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US Patent Pending

Through biodiesel synthesis, researchers can turn wet aglae into algae biofuel. 

Algae energy could play a major role in achieving energy independence.  Since algae grow quickly and naturally all over the world, it could become an almost limitless source of alternative energy, and the most environmentally-friendly product to be converted into biodiesel fuel.

The biodiesel synthesis process involves hydrothermal treatment of algae paste followed by filtration and treatment of the solid with an alcohol. By heating and squishing microalgae in a pressure-cooker, the crude-oil-making process produces an easy-flowing biodiesel fuel.

Wet Algae Biodiesel Synthesis Solves Algae Energy Dewatering and Drying Problem

As a biofuel source, algae biofuel production has a faster growth rate and can offer higher biomass yields per acre of cultivation, compared to alternative crops used such as corn, soybean, camelina, sunflower, jatropha and oil palm. The speed of growth is 1 or 2 days for algae, compared to 140 days for land crops.

In developing energy from algae, the challenge has been how reduce the expense and energy required for algae dewatering and drying, in order to convert it into liquid and gaseous fuels efficiently. University of Michigan researchers are meeting this challenge by developing a method for making algal biofuel from lipid-rich algae while still in its wet state.

Unlike land crops, algae grows year round through extreme weather conditions and is resistant to drought, wind, rain, and insects. It can grow up to 100 times more oil per acre than corn or soybeans, and can be grown vertically, with potential for even larger oil production levels.

Click on image to see expanded view      Photos by Nicole Casal Moore

Biodiesel from algae is a highly carbon negative process, with more carbon absorbed than emitted when producing and burning the biofuel.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established a mandatory Renewable Fuel Standard requiring transportation fuel sold in the U.S. to contain a minimum of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels, including advanced and cellulosic biofuels and biomass-based diesel, by 2022.

Only 15 billion gallons can be produced from corn-based ethanol, therefore, biofuels derived from algae can meet these longer-term needs and represent a significant opportunity to impact the U.S. energy supply for transportation fuels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Algae Biofuel - Applications and Advantages

  • U.S. safety authorities have given approval for bio-fuel from algae to be blended with traditional jet fuel on commercial flights worldwide.
  • Automotive companies are testing bio-fuel from algae in their engines.
  • Algae biofuel is an affordable, reliable and renewable energy source that can lead to end dependence on foreign oil and address climate crisis.
  • Biofuels from algae can meet longer-term needs and represent a significant opportunity to impact the U.S. energy supply for transportation fuels, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Biofuel form algae is non-toxic, biodegradable, and can mix with existing fuels in existing vehicles.
  • In addition to fuel, it can be used to produce bioplastics, medicine, nutrition, animal feed, and fertilizer.