True, 2009 was a bad year for biodiesel. The U.S. economy tanked, the European Union tariffed U.S. biodiesel straight off the continent and the $1.00-per-gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers expired at the end of December. But automakers from Daimler to Chevrolet are still betting on some sort of future for biodiesel, and the raw material that many in the biodiesel industry see as the holy grail is algae.

Algae grow rapidly, are much less water-intensive than other oil-seed crops (they can even grow on waste water), feed off of carbon dioxide like its a Pizza Hut lunch buffet and some varieties are incredibly oil-rich. So let's just assume all the numbers work out and algae-based biodiesel fulfills its destiny as the most promising second-generation biofuel out there. Then what? Well, two researchers from Colorado State University intend to find out.

Anthony Marchase and Azer Yalin have received a $325,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to determine the pollutant formation chemistry of algae-derived biofuels. Marchase summed up the study by posing the questions: "What are the consequences if we were to suddenly go from zero to 20 billion gallons of algae-based biofuel per year over the next 20 years? Are there going to be any consequence that we may not have thought about?"

Combustion and pollution experiments will be performed in a rapid compression machine (RCM). An RCM simulates the compression stroke of an engine allowing auto-ignition (ie, compression ignition like the kind found in a diesel engine) phenomena to be studied in a more controlled environment than they could be in an actual engine. Though the main concerns are particulate matter and NOx, the team's experiments enable instantaneous measurements of other pollutants like NO, NO2, CO, CO2, formaldehyde, HCN and soot precursors as well. Read the award abstract here.

[Source: Green Car Congress]


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