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Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen Gets a Primer on Algae-based Biofuel

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
July 9, 2008

The stages of algae production to be used for biodiesel fuel are reflected in these bottles. The large beaker shows the algae growing in water; the second, in sludge form; the third after it has been freeze-dried. The last jar holds biofuel made from algae.

Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen stopped by Ihab Farag’s biodiesel lab yesterday to learn more about the alternative energy work being done at UNH using algae to make biodiesel fuel.

Professor Ihab Farag explains the process of growing algae for biofuel to former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen who toured the biodiesel lab yesterday.

Farag, a professor of chemical engineering, also gave Shaheen a tour of the greenhouses where experiments with algae and natural light have recently been launched. On Monday Shaheen gave a speech calling for increased funding for research and technology.

“A lot of universities are catching on; we started early,” Farag said of the algae research, adding the fuel source is still a few years away from commercial use because it is not yet cost effective. “Contamination is a big issue.”

Still, algae is cheaper than corn and soybeans. An acre of either will produce between 60 and 70 gallons of biodiesel while an acre of algae will yield 10,000 gallons. What’s more, algae grows very fast—it quadruples within 24 hours-- and can be harvested within days. And it doesn’t compete with food the way corn and soybeans do.

Algae and water circulate through these hoses while artifical light prompts photosynthesis, producing more algae.

To grow algae you need air, light and water; another benefit over other biodiesel fuel sources is that any water including saltwater and wastewater can be used, conserving yet another resource.

After the algae is harvested it is freeze dried—heat would affect the stability of the lipids—and then the oil is extracted.

Farag noted it will take governments getting behind the concept for algae to become a viable source of fuel. Shaheen agreed, saying she supports renewable energy technology.

Algae turning to biodiesel.

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