Rural Water - Quarter 2, 2009 - (Page 20)

Algae to Biodiesel Algae can produce a renewable biodiesel fuel that would be produced locally and would be economically competitive with fossil fuels. WITH THE ARRIVAL of spring, Virginia is in bloom, and a team of the state’s scientists and engineers have been especially eager this year to welcome the warmer weather. In a one-acre, manmade, shallow pond built a few months ago in the central part of the state, rising temperatures are bringing a bright green burst of algae growth. Once harvested, these microscopic organisms can provide a big boost to the alternative energy movement. BY PATRICK G. HATCHER The smaller tanks you will see hold developing algae cultures that are used to “seed” the pond. Photo by Chuck Thomas, courtesy of Old Dominion University. For several years now, I, as executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium (VCERC) and as a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., have led an initiative exploring the conversion of algal biomass into biodiesel fuel. On a small scale, we have cultivated algae in test tubes and 500-gallon tanks, monitoring growth rate and oil content. Once dried, our algae has been converted by a one-step process we originated and patented at ODU into a syrupy brown liquid that looks similar to petroleum diesel and has been shown to be a viable fuel. Now, for the fi rst time, we are entering the prime growing season with a fully operational algal-farming pond, and we are eager to answer questions pertinent to the commercial-scale production of algal biodiesel. How much algae can a one-acre pond yield? Our calculations indicate about 240 pounds per day, enough to produce 7-10 gallons of the fuel. But only on-site research can adequately answer the question. During 2009, we will monitor weather and nutrient conditions that control algae growth. We will test harvesting methods, determining, for example, whether a centrifuge-based procedure is better than one that depends on coagulation and settling. We will find out if – in an open pond – we can prevent our preferred algae species from being overwhelmed by invasive and less-oil-rich species. Also, we will test whether the conversion from biomass to fuel can be conducted in an economical, continuous-feed system, or whether the conversion is best performed batch by batch. The results of our investigations, of course, will be of great interest to the research team. But the results also should grab the attention of 20 • Second Quarter 2009

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Water - Quarter 2, 2009

Rural Water - Quarter 2, 2009
From the President
Energy Conservation for Small Utilities
Sounds Too Good to Bet True...But It's Real!
Algae to Biodiesel
Wind to Water
Utility Management in a Down Economy
Waterbrick: Bulk Water Delivery System Pulls Double Duty as Shelter
Five Attributes of Inspirational Leaders
Regulatory Update
Rally Wrap Up
Throwing My Loop
Index to Advertisers
From the CEO

Rural Water - Quarter 2, 2009