[USA]Bottles and sample containers rest on the corner of Stephen Mayfield’s desk, sporting labels such as algae petroleum and algae biofuel.
The UCSD biology professor, who has spent the past 25 years experimenting with algae, now focuses on extracting crude oil from green algae to create biofuel.
Mayfield considers biofuels much more secure and sustainable than petroleum.
“We’ve sort of tapped those resources, so now what I look at is do we have an opportunity with algae to do new agriculture that we haven’t done before,” he said.
The oil produced from algae can be used to make a form of gasoline and diesel indistinguishable from that made from petroleum, Mayfield said.
“Petroleum is from algae, so when we make gasoline from that and when we take oil from algae, it’s kind of the same,” he said. “We make what is called a fungible, or a drop-in fuel from algae.”
The research completed at Mayfield’s lab has helped his company, Sapphire Energy, convert algae into biofuel.
“We don’t actually make individual products (at the UCSD lab),” Mayfield said. “We invent the underlying technology, because (companies) don’t want to spend their resources on basic science.
They want to borrow the basic science from the university and then use that to create a product that they will sell.”
The process of creating the algae biofuel takes place in three main steps, according to Mayfield.
In his UCSD lab, Mayfield primarily focuses on the first step.
“We spend most of our time working on the strain: getting the best algae that anyone in the world can use, because it’s productive and it’s resistant to pests and pathogens and it grows fast and it produces good oil,” he said.
Biofuels are in tight competition with petroleum because of the continuous spikes and drops in price.
“When it’s (petroleum) up and expensive, we invest in alternative fuels, alternative energy, but when the price goes down, we stop investing in those things,” Mayfield said.
Sapphire Energy has recently begun working with omega-3 fatty acids because of the drop in oil prices.
“What we should do is just make a consistent investment in renewable energy,” Mayfield said. “Everybody knows we need it; everybody knows that the price of oil has continued to go up, but its very hard to get voters to agree to invest in research and development in biofuels when gasoline is $2 a gallon.”
View original article at: Creating biofuel from algae, rather than petroleum