This SBIR Phase I project will develop a device for pretreatment of algal cells with a pulsed electric field to facilitate oil extraction. The innovation is the optimization of a pulsed electric field to an algal culture. The main activities of the Phase 1 project will be to develop the pulsed electric field device, optimize the parameters, and assess cost effectiveness. The long term goal is to integrate the optimized pulsed electric field system with the algal bio-fuel industry.
The broader/commercial impact of the project will be that successful development of the proposed pulsed electric field system and its integration with the algal bio-fuel system will have a positive impact on the algae-derived bio-fuel industry, if proven cost effective. The benefits of PEF processing in biofuel production are simple and straightforward. If PEF pretreatment can reduce the costs of producing biofuels, these renewable energy sources become more competitive with petroleum products. The resulting increased demand for biofuels reduces the demand for imported oil, and keeps energy dollars in the US economy. As the oil price spike last summer demonstrated, adoption of alternative, renewable fuels will happen extremely rapidly once they are less costly than oil.
Intellectual Merit This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project will investigate pulsed electric field (PEF) processing to extraction of algal oils for biofuel production. Algal oil extraction presently requires very expensive processes, such as drying and solvent separation with hexane or supercritical CO2. Producing competitive algal biofuels requires a low-cost approach to breaking (lysing) cell walls to enable extraction with existing, low cost processes. PEF processing uses short, high-voltage pulses of electricity. These pulses are applied to an algal solution in a specialized treatment chamber to lyse algal cell membranes. This lysis releases the oil contained in the cell, and allows the entry of solvents into the cell. PEF processing has been used commercially in food preservation (in place of heat pasteurization), extraction of sugar from sugar beets, and in methane production through anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge. DTI has developed large scale, commercial PEF processing hardware that could readily be applied to algal biofuel processing. In Phase I, Diversified Technologies (DTI) lysed Isochrysis and two species of Chlorella, in conjunction with Arizona State University. The cost to process Chlorella is estimated at $0.064/gal fuel. DTI also developed a technique that can indicate if oil has been released in approximately 20 minutes after PEF treatment, significantly speeding the ability to optimize PEF process conditions. In Phase II DTI will determine the PEF process conditions to lyse additional species of algae of interest to algal biofuel producers, demonstrate and assess the cost of PEF-assisted extraction at a larger scale, and develop low-cost PEF equipment for laboratory use in the hundreds of R&D centers working on algal biofuels today. Broader Impacts The benefits of PEF processing in biofuel production are simple and straightforward. If PEF processing can reduce the costs of biofuels, these renewable energy sources become more competitive with petroleum products. The resulting increased demand for biofuels reduces our demand for imported oil, and keeps energy dollars in the US economy. Adoption of alternative, renewable fuels will happen rapidly once they are less costly than oil. This will eventually happen as the price of oil continues to rise, but adoption can be accelerated if biofuels become cost-competitive at nominal oil prices. A viable PEF pre-treatment process would have wide applicability to various extraction methodologies throughout the biofuel industry.