Research projects address aquatic plant species

By Erin Voegele | August 02, 2011

University researchers in New Jersey and the U.K. are pursuing respective projects to develop algae- and kelp-based biofuels. In the U.S., a team of researchers at Glassboro, N.J.-based Rowan University’s College of Engineering has been awarded a $750,000 grant from the U.S. DOE to support an algae project titled “Algae-Derived Biofuels.”

According to information released by Rowan Engineering, the study will be conducted in two parts. The first component will include a life-cycle analysis to determine the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to manufacture biodiesel from algae. For the second part of the project, Rowan Engineering will collaborate with Preston, Minn.-based Algaedyne Corp. and Bordentown, N.J.-based Garden State Ethanol Inc. to study the effect membrane technology on algae growth. Specifically, Algaedyne will use a hollow fiber membrane system proposed by the research team to supply the algae with carbon dioxide. The researchers will then compare the results of the membrane research with those of algae grown using more conventional cultivation methods. The university announcement notes that Garden State Ethanol will conduct pilot-scale testing to evaluate algae dewatering and oil-extraction techniques. Information released by the Rowan Engineering also states that the algae used in this research have been purchased from UTEX, the Culture Collection of Algae at the University of Texas at Austin.

The project is being led by Kauser Jahan, a professor of environmental engineering in the Civil and Environmental Engineering program. Additional members of the team include Robert Hesketh, professor and chair of Chemical Engineering; C. Stewart Slater, professor of chemical engineering; Mariano Savelski, associate professor of chemical engineering; Will Riddell, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Shamia Hoque, assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Alternatively, researchers at U.K.-based Aberystwyth University recently released the results of research into the viability of using kelp as a feedstock for biofuel production. The project, housed under the university’s Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences, found that the suitability of the kelp’s composition varies on a seasonal basis. According to information released by the university, harvesting local kelp in July results in the highest carbohydrate levels, ensuring optimal sugar release for biofuel production.

“The storage carbohydrate and soluble sugars get converted into ethanol in the fermentation process, so we need as much as possible,” said Jessica Adams, a lead researcher at Aberystwyth University in a statement released by the university. “Metals can inhibit the yeast too so we also want these to be as low as possible.”

To complete the research, the team collected samples of kelp from the Welsh coast on a monthly basis and then used chemical analysis techniques to measure the carbohydrate and metal levels. According to the university, the team’s results have been presented at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow.