Los Alamos Acoustic Focus Technology Combines Separation and Concentration Steps for Algal Biofuels
An award-winning technology from the Los Alamos Labs is finding application in the increasingly important quest for algal biofuels. Solix Biofuels is adopting Los Alamos' acoustic focus technology to both separate and concentrate the algal oil. This method is said to reduce energy requirements by a factor of 100 or more.
In order to turn algae into transportation fuel, the tiny plant-like organisms first must be separated from their watery home and the growth medium used to sustain them. Current methods rely on giant centrifuges to separate liquids from algae solids. Centrifuges take a lot of power to operate, raising production costs and increasing the process’ overall carbon use. Moreover, standard fuel-conversion methods extract lipids from the algae using solvents that are potentially hazardous to humans and the environment, and costly to dispose of.Some improvements in the efficiency of producing algal fuels will be incremental. Some improvements may well be revolutionary. Either way, some of the largest economic entities and governments of the world are committed to developing algal fuels technology to the point of profitability in a head to head competition with fossil fuels.
Thanks to use of Los Alamos’s acoustic-focusing technology, the algae-water-growth-medium mixture is subjected to ultrasonic fields that concentrate the algal cells into a dense sludge. This combined separation and concentration method uses hundreds of times less power than centrifuges. The Lab’s lipid extraction and fractionation technique also avoids the need for costly, hazardous solvents.