July 11, 2011

Roman Bath Algae Could Be New Biofuel

According to new research, algae growing in Roman Baths could be used to make fuel for cars.

The Roman Baths are at the center of a university study aimed at producing renewable biofuels from algae.

Studies have been carried out into creating biodiesel from algae for 20 years, but limitations currently prevent it being used on a large scale.

Researchers hope to produce one of the seven algae in the baths in commercially viable quantities.

Biodiesel is able to be produced by extracting the oil from the algae cell.

PhD student Holly Smith-Baedorf, who is working on the project at the University of Bath, told BBC News: "Algae are usually happiest growing at temperatures around 25C and that can limit the places in which it can be cultivated on a large scale.

"Areas where these ideal conditions are available also usually make good arable areas and are therefore needed for food production.

"In an ideal world we would like to grow algae in desert areas where there are huge expanses of land that don't have other uses, but the temperatures in these zones are too high for algae to flourish."

The research team is growing each of the algae from the Roman Baths over a range of temperatures and comparing them to "control" algae known for being good for producing biodiesel at normal temperatures.

Professor Rod Scott told BBC: "The results of this study will help us identify whether there is a particular algae species among the seven identified in the Roman Baths that is well adapted to growing at higher temperatures and also suitable for producing sufficient amounts of biodiesel to make wide-scale production viable."

Another limitation in producing large quantities of algae is that its cell walls are difficult to break, making extraction of the oil inside an energy intensive process.

Some algae cells are also easier to filter than other, reducing the energy and economic cost of "harvesting" the algae from cultures.

The team is also looking for a species of algae with weaker cell wall and high oil content.


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