Confined Impinging Jet Mixers for Enhancing Microbial Biofuel Production

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Researchers from University of Utah found that rapid lipid harvesting plays a major role in energy parity for microbial derived biofuels

The use of electrified vehicles is significantly increasing, especially for short distance transportation services both in public and private sector. Fuels with high energy density are required for long distance transportation. This has however being limited to low availability of scalable high energy density fuels that can be used instead of fossil counterparts. Fuels derived from microorganisms is a new approach with significant advantages over first generation biofuels. First-generation biofuels rely on crops as fuel sources, whereas microorganisms can be cultivated on non-arable land. The process uses saline water and wastewater. The water produced from mineral and petroleum extraction can also be used.

Now, a team of researchers from Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Utah developed a novel jet mixer that can be used to obtain biomass from algae. The team used the class of algae that excerpts lipids from the watery plants with much less energy compared to conventional extraction method. According to the team that included researchers from Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry of the University, the findings can facilitate development of a viable, cost-effective alternative fuel. The research was published in the journal Chemical Engineering Science: X on December 13, 2018.

The team demonstrated that confined impinging jet mixers (CIJMs) can be used to offer enhanced lipid extraction from microalgae. The mixers use turbulence to mix organic solvent in algae suspensions. The resultant turbulent flow decreases the Kolmogorov length – the smallest scales in turbulent flow—between algae cells and organic solvent. This in turn increases the velocity of lipid diffusion, thereby increasing lipid yield. The team used Synechococcus Elongatus – a unicellular cyanobacterium that is very widespread in the marine environment for the purpose. It was found that lipid extraction from the cyanobacterium into hexane offers yields similar to the performance of Bligh and Dyer (B & D) or Folch procedures that are used for the extraction and separation of lipids from microorganisms and biological tissues using chloroform, methanol, or water. Moreover, the lipid yield was almost the same as the concentration of algae feedstock in the tested algae concentration range. This in turn suggested that algae culture can be directly used as feedstock to CIJMs without the use of dewatering steps. The crude extract obtained from algae using CIJMs can be converted successfully into biodiesel.

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Edwin Santos

Edwin Santos was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He has contributed to Discovery Magazine, Details and the Huffington Post. Edwin has also served as a commentator for NPR and MSNBC. As a journalist for Oak Tribune, Edwin mostly covers national news. Aside from earning a living as a freelance journalist, Edwin also works as photographer.

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