John Tolley, October 3, 2017
Who doesn't love green algae?
From the edible nori enveloping a delicious spicy tuna hand roll to the thick sludge floating atop your favorite pond, algae is arguably the world's most popular polyphyletic group of aquatic plants.
Now, researchers at Michigan State University are raising algae's stock even higher, harnessing its capability to absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to lower emissions from fossil fuel-burning power plants. If that wasn't enough, the process will convert those emissions into an impressive array of byproducts, according to project director Wei Liao, associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering.
"We've been running bioenergy experiments with algae on campus for over a decade," said Liao, speaking with MSU Today. "We're now testing a novel technique not only to mitigate power plant emissions, but also to turn them into new sources of revenue."
Awarded a $1 million grant from the US Department of Energy, faculty from the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department are working with colleagues from the MSU Chemistry Department on the project, which utilizes a process called "biomass cascade conversion" to optimize CO2 absorption.
This process not only ups the quantity of greenhouses gases removed from emission, but also drastically reduces the amount of space needed to culture the requisite algae, making the system much more viable for the companies that operate power plants.
Beyond improved environmental stewardship, there is also a financial incentive for companies to eventually adopt algae-based biomass cascade conversion. The process results in the creation of some valuable commodities, from biofuel to polyurethane.
The team's ongoing research experiments are being hosted at MSU's T.B. Simon Power Plant, with additional assistance provided by PHYCO2 LLC, a supplier of algae for industrial uses.