UNL researchers explore fuel made from algae

It's green, it's slimy and someday, it could help run your car.

The UNL School of Biochemistry is exploring the use of algae as a natural manufacturer of oil.

Associate Professor George Oyler says, “the beauty of the oil made by algae, or really any photosynthetic plant, is that it's taking carbon dioxide, which currently is a problem in our atmosphere, and converting it into oil, a useful product, simply through the energy of sunlight.”

This particular oil is useful in the creation of biofuels and has the potential to produce ten times as much of it as corn.

But to do so, first you need to be able to grow hundreds of acres of the green stuff, and then, Oyler says, “one of the challenges of using algae for biofuels is that we have to learn how to harvest them.”

For now, the mixture of water and algae is put in a centrifuge.  When the spin cycle is finished, the algae gets deposited in little tubes, 30% of which is oil.  The problem is that doing it on a larger scale, say of 500 acres, isn't very efficient.

Now, new research could change that.  Research conducted by Paul Black, the head of the UNL Biochem lab, could satisfy such a large acreage of oil production.  Such production can make money, which fits perfectly with UNL's business plan.  Black says, “If you're growing a lot of algae on a large scale and you've got a system that allows the oil to be secreted from the algae, it's going to move right to the surface and you can just skim it off the top.”

It's research like this that could be funded at the soon to be built Innovation Park.  Right now, it's in the beginning stages, but in several years, UNL could be producing oil from algae on a large scale.