The Little Green Savior

DESIGN CASE: Aquatic Biofuels – Duckweed and ethanol conversion

 Aquatic Biofuels is the extraction of any form of renewable energy that can be extracted from aquatic resources. Duckweed is a small aquatic plant, that lives in water and is very similar to micro-algae in that it can feed off waste water and be able to suck up CO2, similar to some strains of algae duckweed that contain large amounts of starch that can be processed to create ethanol. This would not only lessen the burden on current corn to ethanol production and the debates on fuel vs. food, but it would also lower CO2 emissions and hence contribute to mitigating climate change. Duckweed is also the fastest growing plant on earth and also has a long production period, so the extraction of duckweed is almost limitless. Duckweed is able to grow on anything and purify substances, so not only able to produce ethanol, Duckweed has many qualities. 

The total starch content of duckweed can vary from 3-75% of the dry weight depending on trains, species and contact with the sun. Other factors like nutrients and concentration play a large role in the accumulation of starch in duckweed. Duckweed biomass can produce appreciable quantity of starch that can be readily fermented into ethanol. Duckweed has a great potential for the development of an environmentally friendly, economically viable ethanol production.
However, Duckweed cannot produce biofuel, but the sugars excreted from Duckweed can be food for algae which can produce biofuels.

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DESIGN CASE: Biofuel Breakthrough: Quick Cook Method Turns Algae into Oil

“We’re trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms,” (Phil Savage, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor and a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan).
Phil Savage has chosen a micro algae organism that is grown in the ocean. To make their one-minute bio crude oil, Savage and his team filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae’s temperature should have just scraped the 550-degree mark before the Savage and his team pulled the reactor back out. Different than previously thought the fast method of extracting the oil from algae was much more efficient and the fast heating might boost the bio crude by keeping unwanted reactions at bay. Savages team also pointed out that shorter reaction times mean that the reactors don’t have to be as large. “By reducing the reactor volume, the cost of building a bio crude production plant also decreases,” Faeth (doctoral student from Savages lab) said, though both she and Savage cautioned that they couldn’t say for sure whether the new method is faster and cheaper until the process is further developed.

Current commercial makers of algae-based fuel first dry the algae and then extract the natural oil. But at over $20 per gallon, this fuel is a long way from our local petrol station. One of the advantages of the wet method is that it doesn’t just extract the existing fat from the algae – it also breaks down proteins and carbohydrates. The minute method did this so successfully that the oil contained about 90 percent of the energy in the original algae.

Before bio crude oil can be fed into the existing refinery system for petroleum, it needs pre-refining to get rid of the extra oxygen and nitrogen atoms that abound in living things.

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We face three unprecedented challenges: energy crisis, global food shortage and pollution. These crucial factors in our way of life are the foundation for our survival, however, with the constant strain on our fossil fuels and population growth climate change will change our life and sadly destroy it if we do not act on our actions. If oil is high then food will go up. Cost of food has a great impact on the world. Over 30-50 years we will need to feed more than the entire human race since the beginning. There are many ways we can cut down on our consumption and turn o alternative ways of fuel production and living. Algae can assimilate co2 and produce oxygen it also contains a lot of oil within its cell structure. Algae are very low maintenance and only require minimal sources to survive. From fuel, medicine, food, pharmaceuticals, jet fuel, bio fuel, healthy oils and cosmetics Algae is a possible alternative to the copious amounts of crude oil we consume from our planets soil. Energy accumulation in hydrocarbons how we can turn this green organism into an even more useful source, other than oxygen.  If you burn algae it will release energy. Phil Savage is a micro biologist who has discovered away to rapidly produce crude oil from algae. He has chosen a micro algae organism that is grown in the ocean. “To make their one-minute bio crude oil, Savage and his team filled a steel pipe connector with 1.5 milliliters of wet algae, capped it and plunged it into 1,100-degree Fahrenheit sand. The small volume ensured that the algae was heated through, but with only a minute to warm up, the algae’s temperature should have just scraped the 550-degree mark before the Savage and his team pulled the reactor back out.”
Although Savages solution proves promising, at the rate our current commercial suppliers invest in a safer option for fuel we will not see this algae oil in mass production any time soon. The part that riles me up the most about this situation is that the majority of people who would like a change do not have an impact on the large businesses and franchises that hold all the keys to their financial vault. For any change to happen in the world it is almost impossible without money, funding and support from the majority of the population. However, the human race does not enjoy change – we are afraid of changing the way we live.

 I also looked into a similar approach of aquatic bio fuels extracted from duckweed. Plants accumulate solar energy into three main types of organic molecules

1. Fatty acids
2. Carbohydrates
3. Lignocellulose

Most foods can be converted to oils but will use up most our resources.100L of fresh water is used for 1L of ethanol – we need to use waste water and sea water in order to efficiently produce the oil without destroying another one of our systems in jeopardy. Aquatic plants make great biofuel sources, and waste biomass is the largest renewable source of energy. Invasive aquatic water plants and algae can be used for waste water treatment, food for animals and as feedstock for biofuel production. Duckweed has a great potential for the development of an environmentally friendly, economically viable ethanol production. However, Duckweed cannot produce biofuel, but the sugars excreted from Duckweed can be food for algae which can produce biofuels. So not only creating an alternative source of energy, yet fueling another alternative source of energy. This system I believe could work rather well but then again fail miserably by the fact that either one of these options would not be working in the same league as the other.

As being the ancestor of creation and our primary source of oxygen, algae proves promising figures of sustainable energy solutions for the future. But then again there are quite a ­­few more viable options currently in production and on the market, such as solar panels. So we probably won’t start to see the use of algae plants of energy production until about 10 years or so at the least which is rather sad, because it proves that we as a race are very stubborn and will not to conform to a more appropriate lifestyle simply because we can’t handle the change process.

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