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Research / Discovery

Emissions produced from algae as a biofuel

March 24, 2010

Some Colorado State University engineers are stepping back from the scramble to find renewable alternatives to oil and asking a pivotal question: Is algae as a biodiesel truly more environmental friendly?

One of the first studies on algae biofuel emissions

Anthony Marchese, an associate professor in mechanical engineering, focuses his research on how fuels burn and the particulate matter that is produced.

Anthony Marchese and Azer Yalin, associate professors in mechanical engineering, have received a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to conduct one of the first studies on the emissions produced from algae as a biofuel.

“One of the reasons we’re interested in algae-based biofuels is because of their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce our dependence on imported oil,” Marchese said.

Understanding the risks

“What are the consequences if we were to suddenly go from zero to 20 billion gallons of algae-based biofuel per year over the next 20 years? Are there going to be any consequences that we may not have thought about? Recent history is littered with examples where we’ve moved too quickly with the technology without understanding the risks.”

An example, he said, is the MTBE additive to oxygenate fuels that was quickly removed from the market because of possible health effects appearing from groundwater contamination.

Good time to evaluate pollutant formation before widespread use

“Now is a good time to evaluate pollutant formation from these fuels – before they are in widespread use,” Marchese said.

Azer Yalin, also an associate professor in mechanical engineering, will use his expertise with lasers to measure the NOx produced during the ignition of a single spherical droplet of fuel.

Marchese and Yalin are also working with Jeff Collett in CSU’s atmospheric chemistry department and John Volckens in environmental and radiological health sciences.

Marchese’s research focuses on the fundamentals of how fuels burn and the particulate matter that is produced.

How is NOx produced from biofuel?

The scientists will conduct several experiments to better understand how oxides of nitrogen, also known as NOx, are produced from biofuel. Much of the work will be done at the CSU Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory.

“There is a lack of understanding of the chemistry behind NOx and soot formation from biodiesel in general,” Yalin said. “Algae-based biodiesel is unique and has a different chemical structure than feedstocks like soybeans, so we’re building several experiments to focus on the NOx production and soot as well. In diesel engines, NOx and soot are still a major concern.”

Use lasers to safely study combustion

The researchers will use Yalin’s expertise in lasers to safely study combustion while it’s happening as well as to provide images and data on concentrations of different molecules. Yalin and Marchese will use lasers to measure the NOx produced during the ignition of a single spherical droplet of fuel as well as other chemical reactions produced during the combustion process.


Contact: Emily Wilmsen
E-mail: Emily.Wilmsen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2336