A New Approach for Biodiesel Production from Algae

EPA Grant Number: SU833165
Title: A New Approach for Biodiesel Production from Algae
Investigators: Niyogi, Dev , Forciniti, D. , Mormile, Melanie , Summers, David
Current Investigators: Niyogi, Dev , Becker, Paul Andrew , Blair, Andrew , Davis, Krista , Drury, Brianna , Forciniti, D. , Growcock, Casey Anna , Hoyt, Charles , Mormile, Melanie , Schoemehl, Samantha , Steele, Ryan , Summers, David
Institution: University of Missouri - Rolla
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through May 31, 2007
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Energy , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The supply of energy for the United States and world is currently dependent on extraction of fossil fuels. Eventually, a novel or sustainable source of energy will be required for industrial societies. In particular, transportation fuels are currently dependent on dwindling supplies of oil. Several bio-fuels for transportation are being explored, and we focus this proposal on an innovative approach to growing algae for the production of biodiesel. Algae have the highest potential rates of oil production per area of all biological sources. Although initial trials funded by the US Department of Energy had shortcomings, we will use a novel approach that can overcome limitations of previous efforts. We plan to grow algae in underground mines using renewable energy from solar and wind sources to provide light and mixing of photo-bioreactors. We will demonstrate that algae can be grown at high production rates underground, given that algae do not need high light and that the controlled environment of mines will prove beneficial in fostering algal growth without the influx of external algae or grazing animals.

Our approach will be unique in that we will involve multiple (6) teams of students from diverse academic disciplines. Mining students will excavate new areas of the UMR Experimental Mine to house the algal “modules.” Electrical and geological engineering students will provide solar and wind power for light and mixing of the modules. Students from biological sciences will select algal strains that grow well in the controlled environment and also produce a high proportion of oil in their biomass. Additional experiments will focus on environmental induction of enhanced oil production. Chemical engineering students will design equipment to harvest and extract lipids (oil) from the algae and purify them into biodiesel. Another team of biology students will develop a methane-producing bioreactor using microbial communities to degrade the leftover algal biomass after processing. Finally, mechanical engineering students will test the biodiesel fuel in engines.

This project meets the P3 requirements by providing information on a sustainable approach to biodiesel production that does not interfere with food production or other competing land uses. Students will evaluate and modify their designs to maximize algal growth, algal oil production, oil extraction efficiency, and methane production, thus improving performance for each step in the project. All energy inputs and energy produced will be measured to determine the overall success of the technology. Students involved in the project will learn scientific aspects of the technology as well as skills for working in teams, finding solutions to complex problems, and educating others. Demonstration of the technology will provide for the education of UMR students and visitors, as well as the general public including K-12 students.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

global climate, organism, metabolism, ecosystem, scaling, aquatic habitat, green chemistry, sustainable development, clean technologies, innovative technology, renewable, environmentally conscious manufacturing, cost-benefit, conservation, environmental chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, ecology, limnology, measurement methods, Midwest, Missouri, MO, EPA Region 7, agriculture, mining, industry, alternative energy source, alternative fuel, alternative to petroleum diesel fuel, bio-based energy, biodiesel fuel, biofuel, biotechnology, emission controls, energy conservation, energy efficiency, engineering, environmentally benign alternative, renewable energy, renewable fuel production, waste to fuel conversion,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, sustainable development, algae, environmental sustainability, alternative materials, biomass, energy efficiency, energy technology, alternative fuel, biodiesel fuel, alternative energy source

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report