Researchers at the University of Utah recently published a paper describing new technology that will make the development of biofuels from plants more economically feasible.
Dr. Mohanty is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Utah,
“Algae fuel, in particular, is not a new idea," said Dr. Mohanty, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Utah. "I think it was first demonstrated back in the ’70s where they said ‘Oh, we can take this and we can, you know, extract oils.’ And that oil then can be used as a precursor to biofuels such as biodiesel or jet fuel.”
This technology has not been developed further in the past because the process by which the oils were extracted from the plants was too costly to be economically viable. However, the new technique developed by Dr. Mohanty and his colleagues may change all that.
“Typically when you take algae you have to go through this drying or dewatering step," he said. "What we decided is ‘Well, what if I could just take the algae, feed it into this mixer and extract the biocrude directly without using the energy needed to dewater it as in traditional methods?’
"Basically what we do is we have a solvent in one end and we have the algae with the water in another end and we shoot them into this little mixer at high velocities. What comes out is basically a slurry of stuff that if you let sit or put into a centrifuge, you can just pull the oil off and process it for fuel.”
The fuels produced through this process burns cleaner than petroleum diesel in most ways and could potentially replace petroleum diesel in many vehicles.
“Particularly in the transportation industry where we use a lot of fuel, you would see mostly diesel engines," Mohant said. "Also in the military, the fuel you would make from this would be mostly of a diesel type which would go into those types of vehicles.”
To learn more about Dr. Mohanty’s research into biofuels and how they might impact fuel production, tune in to UPR’s original series UnDisciplined where he will be discussing his new method in detail, or listen online at www.upr.org.