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Ames Laboratory and Catilin Seek to Commercialize New Nanoparticle-Based Algal Oil Extraction Process

An example of a mesoporous silica nanosphere (MSN). The mesoporous structure is illustrated by the hexagonally packed light-colored dots. Credit: Victor Lin. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University have developed a unique method that uses sponge-like mesoporous nanoparticles to harvest biofuel oils from algae without harming the algae. The nanofarming technology promises lower production costs and shorter production cycles.

Commercialization of this new technology is at the center of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the Ames Laboratory and Catilin, a nanotechnology-based company that specializes in biofuel production (earlier post). The agreement targets development of this novel approach to reduce the cost and energy consumption of the industrial processing of non-food source biofuel feedstock.

The three-year project is being funded with $885,000 from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Industrial Technology Program as part of the 2008 Nanomanufacturing for Energy Efficiency program, and $216,000 from Catilin and $16,000 from Iowa State University in matching funds.

One of the challenges in creating biofuels from algae is that when you extract the oil from the algae, it kills the organisms, raising production costs. The new “nanofarming” technology promises to safely harvest oil from the algae so the pond-based “crop” can keep on producing.

Once the algal oil is extracted, a separate and proven solid catalyst from Catilin will be used to produce ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) and EN certified biodiesel. The driving force behind this combination of nanotechnology and biofuels is Ames Laboratory Chemical and Biological Sciences Program Director Victor Lin. Since 2000, Lin, who is also a chemistry professor at Iowa State University, has been leading research on using nanotechnology to change the production process of biodiesel. This successful technology led Lin to found Catilin one and a half years ago.

The Lin Group at Iowa State is focused on developing chemical methods for the synthesis of multifunctionalized mesoporous silica nanosphere (MSNs) for applications in biotechnology and catalysis areas—i.e., in areas such as controlled release drug delivery, gene transfection, and non-invasive neurotransmitter sensor design, as well as selective catalysis. The group has designed strategies to control the porous structure, particle morphology, biocompatibility, and degree of functionalization of these materials. Catilin, as one application of the technology, is seeking to commercialize an MSN-based catalyst to make the production of biodiesel less expensive, faster, and more flexible with respect to feedstock oils.

In the case of algae nanofarming, rather than using the MSNs to deliver drugs or genes into a cell, for example, the researchers propose using nanospheres to take the algal oil out.

By combining nanotechnology, chemistry and catalysis, we have been able to find solutions that have not been considered to date. Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University offer valuable research capabilities and resources that will play a key role in this exciting collaboration with Catilin.

—Victor Lin

According to Marek Pruski, Ames Laboratory senior physicist and co-investigator on the project, phase one and two of the project will cover the culturing and selection of microalgae as well as the development of the specific nanoparticle-based extraction and catalyst technologies for the removal of algal oil and the production of biodiesel, respectively. Phase three will focus on scale-up of the catalyst and pilot plant testing on conversion to biodiesel.




I wonder if there is an obesity treatment application for humans ?.. of course the recovered fat could be used for making biodiesel.. kill two birds with one stone kind of thing. Make methane with the excess poop from people overeating and really make an impact on the environmental problem.


A flatulence tax would appeal to the lawyers and politicians without a doubt.

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