Algae has many advantages for the production of biofuel. It grows fast, can make a home in almost any watery environment--including wastewater--and doesn't compete for resources with food crops--making it one of the most promising fuel sources for renewable energy.
To help realize this promise, the University of Georgia and the University of Puerto Rico are launching a center in San Juan, aiming to provide power to Puerto Rico and reduce fossil fuel dependence in the U.S. The Defense Department is funding the $4 million project.
"As an island completely dependent on imported energy, Puerto Rico and its entire industrial base is keenly interested in a renewable domestically produced energy source," says UGA engineering professor Ryan Adolphson. "This center will develop and demonstrate technologies to begin meeting that need."
UGA already has an algae research facility here in Athens, and researchers there will focus on production and evaluation of the various strains of microalgae that can be grown in wastewater. (Algae is a catch-all term for all the simple plants living adrift in water.) Rio Piedras researchers will instead evaluate local strains of "macro-algae"--huge kelp-like seaweeds that can be grown in saltwater there in Puerto Rico--to find out which ones produce maximum yields of biofuel.
"This new center is designed to connect the basic research at the university level with the practical and applied needs of industry and will serve as a gateway for students to find successful careers in this new and rapidly growing industry," says Adolphson.
Researchers at the Rio Piedras facility will also develop pilot-scale facilities to produce biofuels (biocrude, biogas, biodiesel, bioethanol) from algae.
The researchers will also attempt to evaluate the general economic viability of an algae-based biofuels industry.
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