U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Innovation at DOE's Los Alamos Unlocking a New Source of Domestic Oil
May 25, 2011
DOE's sustained investment in biofuels technology is unlocking the huge potential for extracting homegrown oil from algae. One significant challenge of using algae is cheaply separating it from the very thing that allows it to grow: water. It's well known that under most cultivation conditions, microalgae reach a typical cell density of less than 1 gram per liter of water; that's 999 parts water to 1 part algae. Removing that quantity of water to get to the algae is an uphill battle. Adding to the problem is scale; the optimal size of the commercial "open-pond" algae production facility is envisioned at more than a million liters of culture each. This means the harvesting technology not only has to concentrate the algae cheaply and effectively, but it must do so at a robust flow-through rate.
Enter the team of DOE researchers led by Babetta Marrone of Los Alamos National Laboratory's Bioscience Division, this is taking this challenge head-on. Marrone's team is busy perfecting the Ultrasonic Algal Biofuel Harvester, which modulates the frequency of sound waves to separate oils, proteins, and water from algae. See the Energy Blog post.