BioPEC researching use of microalgae
Researchers within Oklahoma State University's Biobased Products and Energy Center (BioPEC) are researching many different avenues for producing biobased products and energy.
"Production and use of biofuels improves the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to economic growth in rural areas, helping farmers, improving engine performance, offering a renewable alternative to oil and other fossil fuels and providing energy security by improving independence from foreign oil," said Nurhan Dunford, professor in OSU's Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. "However, utilization of land and water resources for growing biomass to be used as feedstock for biofuel production has created a controversy."
Concerns have been expressed about the agricultural lands currently used for food crops that would be displaced for feedstock production to meet the needs of the biofuels industry.
"I strongly believe that utilization of nonedible feedstock, waste biomaterial and biomass that require minimal land and grow on marginal land, which is not suitable for food crops, is vital for sustainability of the global biofuels industry," she said. "I am very interested in exploring the potential of microalgae as a feedstock for food, feed, biofuel and bioproduct manufacturing."
Dunford and her team of researchers, through funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the South Central Sun Grant program, are exploring that very topic. Microalgae are microscopic organisms found in both marine and freshwater environments.Various types of algae are among the most efficient plants to convert solarenergy to chemical energy, and microalgae can accumulate a wide range of commercially important products such as oil, sugar, protein, cellulose and high value functional bioactive compounds.
"Microalgae systems use far less water than traditional oilseed crops. By use of microalgae, it would take only one percent to three percent of the existing U.S. crop area to replace half of the petroleum based transportation fuel with biodiesel," she said. "More importantly, microalgae do not compete with cropland."
The researchers are working on six different microalgae strains, three of which are native to Oklahoma, on swine lagoon water and vinasse generated during bioethanol production.
"The next phase of the project is to tests the feasibility of growing Oklahoma nativemicroalgae strains in open ponds containing swine waste water and do a lifecycle analysis on both closed and open systems," Dunford said. "Our ultimate goal is that results of this on-going study could lead to establishment of an algal biomass based industry that could produce biofuels and high value-added products in Oklahoma."
More information can be found online at www.bioenergycenter.okstate.edu.