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NMSU Advances their Algae Test Bed Research 1

10- and 100-liter bioreactors

10- and 100-liter bioreactors hold water, nutrient, algae, and CO2 and provide a stock of algae for the facility’s raceways.

NMSU Advances their Algae Test Bed Research

December 12, 2011

Since early October, New Mexico State University’s Institute for Energy & the Environment (IEE) researchers have been transitioning from algae operations in the IEE water and energy lab to the Algae Test Bed Facility located at ‘A’ Mountain. They have been building up to the desired algae content in 10- and 100-liter bags, preparing to inoculate the facility’s indoor raceways—large algae holding tanks—with a strain of algae that is expected to produce cost-efficient biofuel. The effort is part of IEE’s algal biofuel program—an initiative to develop a cost-effective, efficient, and renewable source of biofuel.

The initiative is currently led by a team of scientists, engineers, and students. The Algae Test Bed Facility (ATBF) is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technologies Laboratory (NETL) and by the State of New Mexico. The site is envisioned as an integrated center, a test bed for water and energy. The concept aims to have each element of the site provide energy and water for another element, by using a combination of energy and water technologies with performance and functionality comparable, if not superior, to traditional sources of water and energy. Although still in conceptual stages, the implications of a realized version of the project are vast.

The process began in the IEE lab, where a hardy strain of algae was identified and is now in the process of being transferred to the raceways for larger scale tests, which simulate real-world conditions. The optimum strain would allow researchers to develop a cost-effective, efficient, and renewable source of biofuel. The ideal strain will be fast growing, hardy, and rich in oils.

In the raceways, the algae are monitored to ensure nutrient concentration is optimum. Researchers are still deciding on how to monitor the algae, whether it is expedient to collect samples and take them to the IEE lab, or instead purchase portable analysis equipment. As a member of the team, Luz Elena Mimbela hopes it is the latter: “That’s what I would like—I would like something portable, where you just stick in a probe in the water and read your nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, temperature, CO2, oxygen) all of those things are important and if they’re not where they’re supposed to be, then your algae won’t grow.” It is unclear how often analysis needs to be taken, but “you have to watch the algae, because if something goes wrong, in an hour you could lose the whole batch,” said Mimbela. For example, if the algae are missing a necessary nutrient, they will quickly starve. Some other decisions also face the algal biofuel project such as: how to harvest the algae and extract the oil, and integrate all the features of the facility, which is equipped with a geothermal water source.

Once the algae have reached the desired growth in the smaller raceways, there will be two options. One, the algae can be transferred to outdoor raceways, which are larger than the indoor raceways. Then, researchers could wait until the algae reaches an ideal concentration once again, harvest the algae, remove the water, and extract the oil. The other option would be to harvest the algae directly from the smaller raceways. However, “We’re still somewhat in the construction phase,” Mimbela said, “We can now grow algae, cultivate algae and see that part of the process.” The next step will be to start extracting the oil.

Content courtesy University of New Mexico, College of Engineering

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Tue December 13 2011 02:58:34 PM by Tomcatino 1454 views
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