Navy’s green fleet and biofuels from algae.

The Guardian published an article on Monday US Navy’s ‘great green fleet’ sets sail for Pacific.

“A US Navy oiler slipped away from a fuel depot on the Puget Sound in Washington state last week, headed toward the central Pacific and into the storm over the Pentagon’s controversial green fuels initiative.

In its tanks, the USNS Henry J Kaiser carried nearly 900,000 gallons of biofuel blended with petroleum to power the cruisers, destroyers and fighter jets of what the Navy has taken to calling the “great green fleet,”the first carrier strike group to be powered largely by alternative fuels.

Conventionally powered ships and aircraft in the strike group will burn the blend in an operational setting for the first time this month during the 20-nation Rim of the Pacific exercise, the largest annual international maritime warfare manoeuvres. The six-week exercise began on Friday.

The Pentagon hopes it can prove the Navy looks as impressive burning fuel squeezed from seeds, algae and chicken fat as it does using petroleum.”

As part of my laboratory experience I feel very fortunate to learn more about the properties that make a good potential biofuel and today I got started on my experiment. I up scaled the two species of algae I will be working with in my experimentThis process involves taking sterile filtered sea water, and nutrients. We added vitamins and nutrient broths.

Have you hugged sterile filtered seawater today?

In the laminar flow hood we split the current culture into two sterile glass bottles, then topped it off with filtered seawater, and finally added the broth for nutrients. After up scaling I put on a sterile cap with a pipette through the lid that attaches to a bubbler to constantly keep the cultures aerated.

We split the culture, then add vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

The goal of my experiment is to compare growth requirements of the two species of micro algae (using hand held nutrient assays). I will also create a calibration curve for the growth of the micro algae using transmittance, cell count, and ash free dry weight. I will run Fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) to compare their lipid profile, and I will perform thin layer chromatography to compare pigments in the two species of micro algae.

Adding the nutrients in a sterile environment.

Some of the reasons algae are interesting is they could serve as a potential solution to some of the problems facing the expanding global population. Greenhouse gases are accumulating dramatically in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities and industrialization. In addition, the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases causes serious global warming increasing the temperatures of the surface air and subsurface ocean. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas. Many attempts including physical and chemical treatments have been used to recover CO2 from atmosphere. One biological approach, microalgae appear more photosynthetically efficient than terrestrial plants and are candidates for efficient CO2 fixation. The CO2 fixation by microalgal photosynthesis and biomass conversion into liquid fuel is considered a simple and appropriate process for CO2 circulation on Earth.

Lipids from microalgae are chemically similar to common vegetable oils and have been suggested being a high potential source of biodiesel. Microalgal oil most accumulated as triglycerides can be transformed to biodiesel. The biodiesel compared with fossil-driven diesel, is renewable, biodegradable, and has low pollutant produced.

Also from the article from the guardian they note the cost, “Some Republican lawmakers have seized on the fuel’s price, which is $26 a gallon compared to $3.60 for conventional fuel. They paint the programme as a waste of precious funds at a time when the US government’s budget remains severely strained, the Pentagon is facing cuts and energy companies are finding big quantities of oil and gas in the United States.”

Students what do you think the pros and cons of alternative fuels?

3 Responses to “Navy’s green fleet and biofuels from algae.”
  1. I used to work in a biofuels lab too…on optimization of transesterification…we were developing a “wet-extract” method…can’t tell you more about it really but it ended up working really well…

    I am curious how you are doing the extract? are you really growing green algae in sea-water? Is there a greater potential to use osmotic-shock to lyse the cells in the hyperosmotic media?

    Also, do you see biodiesel as being anything other than supplemental at best as a source of fuel?

    • Mr. Chopp says:

      Clayton, Thanks for the comment. I am working with two salt water species of microalgae. I am unsure how the lab extracts the lipids on a larger scale. I am mainly looking at pigments present, and lipid profile of the microalgae. One of the species I am working with is unique in their abilities to accumulate large numbers of beta-carotene and thrive in media containing a wide range of NaCl concentrations ranging from about 0.05 M to saturation (around 5.5 M). The algae contain no rigid polysaccharide cell wall and thus have been found to be able to rapidly change their volume and shape in response to changes in the extracellular hypo- or hyper-osmotic pressure. So no osmotic-shock here. As the article I referenced in the post indicated, right now biodiesel from algae seems cost prohibitive at the moment, but I think we need to start seeking alternatives to our addiction to fossil fuels.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] products such as pigments (link to pervious post), and lipids which make them useful for biofuels(link to previous post), and potentially the most important oxygen. Some sources estimate as high as 70-80% of atmospheric […]

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