Algae as an Alternative Fuel Source

Algae Fuel Photobioreactor Investments in algal biofuels are increasing dramatically. In the United States, in particular, there has been a startling increase in the amount of venture capital (VC) that has been invested.

In the United States, research and development geared towards the production of fuels from microalgae began in the early 1950s. However, at times, support for such R&D stopped, due to financial constraints and the falling price of crude oil. In recent years, however, the development of algal biofuels has regained attention, due in part to an increased awareness of the problem of increasing CO2 emissions and the risks associated with energy security.

Algae offers the following advantages:

  1. Can be cultivated even in deserts.

  2. Depending on the conditions under which it is cultivated, it can multiply in a matter of hours, making even daily harvest possible.

  3. Compared with fuels based on foodstuffs, production efficiency is higher. Ten to 20 times more stock can be expected from the same amount of space.

When refining crude oil, only a certain percentage can be turned into jet fuel. In the midst of a constantly increasing demand for jet fuel, the airline industry is suffering due to the soaring rise in the price of crude oil; they would gladly welcome the successful realization of algal jet fuel production.

Shimadzu has published Application News articles concerned with the use of TOC, FTIR, & GC/MS measurement for algal biofuels.

Shimadzu Solutions in Algal Research and Production

In Algal biomass research and production, it is important to characterize, measure, and quantify the individual chemical compounds that make up the biomass. Accurate measurement of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates depends upon the information required. For example, lipid or oil content can be in a polar form (phospho- & glycolipids) or non-polar form (triglycerides & sterols). Autotrophically (grown in large ponds) grown algae are rich in polar lipids and heterotrophic (grown in fermenters) grown algae will yield triglyceride rich oils.

Fatty Acid Methyl Esters identification is typically analyzed via gas chromatography (GC). Shimadzu's new easy-to-use Nexis GC-2030 Gas Chromatograph offers technologically advanced features to rapidly and easily perform this analysis.

Carbon content is classically analyzed via a Total Organic Carbon (TOC) analyzer. Shimadzu offers several TOC models, including the TOC-L, which supports the measurement of small quantities of sample (10-20 ml), to address laboratories' varied needs. The data shown below are from the measurement of TOC and Total Nitrogen (TN) in marine water algae culture solution.

TOC and TN Sample Measurement Data
When TOC is combined with a Fourier Transform Infrared Detector (FT-IR), this new method does not require cell disruption and extraction of the components, which reduces labor. The Shimadzu IR Affinity-1S offers a built-in library of more than 12,000 spectra, making it a perfect instrument for this determination.

Jet Fuel is now being produced using Algae. Since its hydrocarbon content is similar to heavy oil, it must be modified with a catalyst. The compound squalene is catalyzed to form squalene, which can be converted to jet fuel and gasoline. Monitoring this process is difficult with a conventional GC. The use of Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) helps to identify unknowns and understand the process. Using the Shimadzu GCMS-QP2020 in the positive chemical ionization mode rather than the EI mode gives the analyst added identification capabilities, a significant benefit due to the large number of carbons in the compound.

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Shimadzu's Analytical Solutions for the Renewable Fuels Industry PDF