Crude oil is integrated so deeply into our lives, whether you are aware of it or not. Oil is used to make petroleum products that fuel our vehicles and airplanes, heat our homes, and even make our medicine. Unfortunately, oil drilling and production are causing virtually irreversible damage to our planet and its inhabitants. Some of these effects include oil spills, disturbance of marine life, and the release of hazardous chemicals via fracking. To prevent any further damage, countless mainstream research has provided evidence for fuel substitutes using more sustainable resources. One of these candidates is algae, which can be converted into biocrude to power our vehicles, ships, and even jets. Algae has considerable potential to take the place of standard crude oil, but research is still rudimentary, and the methods to extract the necessary materials from the algae prove costly.
When one thinks of algae, one may think of smelly green gunk floating in ponds, lakes, and rivers, but algae is so much more than that. Algae are hearty microorganisms that contain lipids, fatty acid molecules containing oil that can be withdrawn sustainably to power diesel engines. Biocrude is produced when these lipids are extracted. The only drawback to this option is the amount of energy, and therefore money, necessary to remove the lipids or biocrude from the algae. Existing methods require more energy to produce biocrude than the resulting energy created.
With an increasing number of people attempting to curb environmental damage, finding the most cost-effective, sustainable method to produce biofuel is crucial—and a group of chemical engineers at the University of Utah may have found just that. They have developed an extraordinarily rapid method to extract algal biofuel in large quantities using a uniquely engineered jet mixer. The researchers have developed a specialized jet mixer that extracts lipids with significantly less energy and time (in only seconds!) than any previous method. The results from this key innovation put algae in the forefront of viable alternative fuels. In addition to the lipids in algae being a greener solution for biofuel, the mass growth and farming of algae for fuel may reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
This innovation has the potential to include a diversity of microorganisms, for example bacteria or fungi. The creation of this technology may revolutionize biofuel development, creating a clearer vision of a green future. To read more about our future in sustainable resources, check out this article.
Greener, more sustainable substitutes are appearing in our everyday lives. What other examples can you think of?