Algae-Based Biodiesel Is (Partially) the Answer to Carbon Neutrality

Photo by Alexander Klepnev / CC By 4.0

Greenhouse gas emissions are devastating to the environment. It directly causes global warming, which in turn causes climate change. A significant emitter of greenhouse gas emissions is the transportation sector, which releases emissions through burning fossil fuels. The worst offenders in the transportation sector are diesel trucks. Statistics show that only 5% of all vehicles in the US are medium to heavy-duty diesel trucks. However, this tiny portion accounts for an astounding 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

The most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to develop a practical biodiesel. Biodiesel is produced from oils, also known as feedstocks. Currently, the most common feedstock is soybean oil. This is where problems arise. Soybean oil-based biodiesel has a lower quality than traditional diesel. This is problematic since a low quality means that many diesel engines cannot run on soybean biodiesel. To solve this problem, a new biodiesel feedstock must be used.

First, let’s talk about algae. This green organism is often considered a nuisance. It seems to grow everywhere and penetrate even the most secure locations. Harmful algal blooms are very harmful to the environment and suffocate the animals originally living in the body of water that algae infiltrated. However, the green “monster” does have a useful side to it since algae are high in lipids. In fact, some species of algae are used as dietary supplements because of their high levels of Omega-3. These lipids are exactly what are used in biodiesel production. I hope you realize the idea here.

Cultivation apparatus used to grow the algae.
Cultivation Apparatus

My research was focused on developing an effective growing method for algae, which is a superior feedstock compared to soybean oil. Algae has a much higher productivity than soybean, which means that algae-based biodiesel is much more profitable. However, the quality is not the only crucial metric in determining a practical biodiesel feedstock. An essential but often neglected aspect of biodiesel is the quality. Producing a lot of low-quality fuel is impractical since many diesel engines cannot use it. It’s better to make smaller amounts of high-quality fuel since more diesel trucks can use it.

Transesterified samples to make fatty acid methyl esters, which is the biodiesel. Samples are stored in 1.5 mL gas chromatography vials.

In my research, I made a scientific breakthrough by discovering how to maximize the fuel quality while maintaining a high productivity. I will post the findings here after my paper has been published.

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