How much would you be willing to pay for a gallon of green gunk skimmed off the top of a pond? 10 years from now, we'll likely be able to answer that question. Researchers at the University of Minnesota are growing algae and working on ways to convert it into oil, and eventually, biodiesel. They say algae could be the auto fuel of the future.
"That's why there is so much interest in algae right now," Professor Roger Ruan explained. Ruan is leading a team of researchers that are breaking down algae at the U's St. Paul Campus. Xcel Energy has alreayd provided a $150,000 grant to the research. "This could potentially be able to replace a major part of the petroleum liquid fuel use in the country," Ruan added.
Spend ten minutes talking about the possibilities of turning sludge to fuel and Ruan grows animated, excited about his research. "If you can produce a lot of oils, than oil can be easily converted into diesel. Algae can potentially produce a lot of oils per acre, per year," Ruan says, adding that algae is easier to grow and harvest than corn and soy.
At the U they're growing algae in wastewater, studying the various types to see which contain the most oils. Some algae is made up of 10 or 20% oil; others they've developed contain more than 50% oil. They've also set up hydrothermal technology they're using to turn the algae sludge into a form of oil. "You will probably see within 3 or 5 years major scale pilot facilities up and running. In less than 10 years you will see major production scale algae into biodiesel," Ruan concluded.
You probably didn't realize the power of pond scum.
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