Researchers already know how to turn algae into fuel. The challenge is how to make that profitable.
A group from the University of Toledo is trying to make the process more efficient and says coming up with a solution may help the environment, too.
The idea is to use algae instead of corn or soybeans to produce biofuels by growing the algae in wastewater, collecting it and then turning it into something productive, The Blade reported.
“We are looking at algae at a different light,” said Sridhar Viamajala, a member of the University of Toledo’s chemical and environmental engineering faculty. “It’s not a food crop, it’s a fuel crop.”
He and other researchers have received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy along with $1 million from the National Science Foundation for the work.
Using algae instead of crops for biofuels means less land is needed that can grow food instead, Viamajala said. Wastewater or sea water could be used to grow the algae, he said.
The group members said they’re at least three years away from the idea becoming viable. They’re also working with researchers at Montana State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
There are no plans to collect algae from Lake Erie, where algae occur naturally and have become a concern as a threat to fish and a turn-off for tourists. Algae from the lake are too diluted for harvesting.
Phosphorus, which is in fertilizer spread on farm fields, is a key nutrient for algae found in the lake.
Toledo’s researchers say that one idea is to use nutrients that are washed off from farmland into rivers to grow algae for biofuels. Doing that would end up helping Lake Erie, they say.
“Here is a way we are able to convert what would otherwise be a societal nuisance into something that would be very valuable,” said Nagi Naganathan, dean of Toledo’s engineering college.