[Chilean] The first Chilean tests of microalgae biodiesel in high-powered diesel engines show that a reduction of gases emissions and particulate matter of up to 80 per cent can be achieved in engines like those used by Trans-Santiago buses and trucks.
The measurements were carried out within the framework of a research project of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Bioprocesses of the Catholic University (CU) together with experts of Automotive Mechanics of the Duoc UC and a group of thesis developers of the Laboratory of Renewable Energies and Residues of the UC Engineering School.
“Some species of microalgae can accumulate a large amount of oils, whose origin is the fixation of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. These can be used to produce biodiesel in a similar way to the biofuel that is produced with oils used in frying,” explained César Sáez, a CU Engineering School professor leading the project.
In the tests carried out on diesel engines, microalgae proved to be a technically feasible alternative to reduce pollutants on Trans-Santiago buses as well as heavy vehicles.
“Our current challenge is to achieve an effective scaling of microalgae production technology for this and other purposes. That is what we are working on,” said Sáez.
Considering the renewable nature of the biofuels, the researchers also decided to produce biodiesel from oils used for frying food.
“We mixed this product with conventional diesel and obtained very good results, similar to the tests with microalgae and without making any change in the mechanics of the engine,” said the expert.
He added that the benefits of using biodiesel mixed with diesel include a reduction in all emissions from oil vehicles, with the exception of nitrogen oxides which may increase slightly. However, he said, some models incorporate a catalytic system to transform and eliminate such a pollutant.
To the researchers, the use of these resources constitutes an enormous potential for the country, especially the use of microalgae, due to the great variety of freshwater and saltwater species that exist in natural environments in Chile.
“The use of microalgae as a source of renewable fuels in Chile is only hampered by the lack of development of large-scale and very low-cost harvesting system lack of development that use little water and energy,” the professor added.
Microalgae are found in freshwater, saltwater aquifers and even in residual waters. They can be grown in the sea, inland, in the desert, semi-arid zones and even in cities using the appropriate technology. These microorganisms are raw material for the production of many chemical compounds required by modern life, including proteins, oils, vitamins, omega fatty acids and antioxidants.
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