Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Biofuel work at Montana State

MSU research into algal biofuels keys larger study

Robin Gerlach is the MSU professor coordinating research into the production of oil-producing algae, as well the feasibility of commercial-scale biofuel production based on microbes discovered in Yellowstone National Park. Part of a multi-institutional project funded by a grant through the Sustainable Energy Pathways program at the National Science Foundation, it is one of many algal biofuel research projects at MSU in the labs of MSU professors Keith Cooksey, Matthew Fields, Brent Peyton and Gerlach.

The project, which also includes the University of North Carolina and the University of Toledo, is part of a federal effort to tackle some of the fundamental problems in developing enough biofuels fuels to provide up to 50 percent of the nation’s transportation fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy funding the project (...)

Typically, people think algae consume carbon dioxide but under alkaline conditions, most of the inorganic carbon in the water is in the form of bicarbonate, Gerlach said.

“But in these highly alkaline environments, that carbon becomes soluble in water and it can be used,” said Gerlach, whose research team includes post-doctoral students, graduate students and undergraduates. (...)

Additionally, the fact that these microbes thrive in a highly alkaline environment lessens the contamination that can complicate efforts to extract commercially viable oils.

The work at the University of North Carolina is taking a holistic look at the future of algal biofuels. That portion of the project is being conducted by Gregory Characklis, who grew up in Bozeman and is the son of the late Bill Characklis, the MSU professor who founded the Center for Biofilm Engineering.

Characklis, a professor in UNC’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is compiling data to build computer models that will test the economic feasibility of producing algal biofuels on a commercial scale, while also assessing some of the environmental impacts of the production process.


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