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Biomedical Research

Most Efficient Algae for Biodiesel Production

This paper discusses how different types of algae can serve as alternatives to the conventional gasoline or diesel that has proved to be harmful for the environment.

By Ishan Mehta

Published 11:58 EST, Sun October 24th, 2021

Abstract 

Algae, an organism competent of harming marine life but also of fueling transportation, is what we worked with. The main benefits of algae are that they can be grown in many types of habitats, purify dirty water, and be converted into biofuel. So far, we have discovered and clarified that Nannochloropsis, a certain type of algae, happens to be the most proficient algae in the sense that it can grow the fastest out of the three that we tested. The Isochrysis galbana and Arthrospira platensis media did not grow as quickly as the previously specified one. We exposed each of the cultures to the same amount of sunlight as well as refreshments (this process meant discarding half of each bottle and refilling it with a fresh culture which was being stored in the refrigerator). Yet, our data suggested Nannochloropsis to be the best in growth. This shows what one of the likely usable forms of algae could be as a source of energy for transportation. We chose to do this experiment because global warming is starting to become a major problem; it is very important that we begin acting on this matter.  

Most Efficient Algae for Biodiesel Production

As platitude as it may sound, we take many things for granted. “We”, meaning the United States of America,  perhaps even going to the extent to say all of humanity is reasonable. A daily resource is cars, trains, planes, and even steamboats. All of which contribute towards global climate change. Continuing on like this is unreasonable and will definitely become unreliable after a certain period of time. Figuring out alternative resources to fuel our transportation systems and methods is a key stage in overcoming this problem so that we don’t have to depend on coal and other similar products that damage our environment. 

Historical Overview

The main objective is to ensure that the rate of use of natural gases is lowered and can be gainful in an economic manner. The number of carbon emissions will cause much more catastrophic results than the ones already present. We are burning down forests and cutting down many trees due to carbon overload. All of this will inevitably lead to more problems and difficulties. Economic welfare and innovative solutions towards this complication can be algae biodiesel. In 2017, over four-fifths of the energy the world consumed, were fossil fuels. On top of that, humans deplete 15 billion metric tons every year. This situation requires immediate attention, and the way to solve this problem is to convert algae into a biofuel. 

Part of the photosynthesis process which occurs in algae produces oil. Most of the time, it can be a difficult task to find a proper and adequate location to accomplish any sort of scientific experiment, but that is not the case with algae. Algae can be grown in many different types of habitats, including saltwater and contaminated water. This is a huge advantage in terms of having a sufficient area to grow the organism. Another leverage of algae is the fact that it can grow quite fast compared to most organisms. It reaches its peak of growth in 30 days. The research questions what type of algae will be the most efficient to grow, and which type can be converted to algae oil in a reliable manner. 

The concept of algae has been around ever since the 1700s. But the ideas we had were to use algae as a source of food. It had taken quite a long time for us to finally realize its other qualities, and that was because it was not as much of a concern back then. Most of the world was busy with wars, poverty, and education. Of course, these are still major problems in modern society, but these were definitely more pressing points back then. The first proposal of using algae as production of gas was half a century ago, in the 1950s. Then, in the 1970s, the “1973 oil crisis” caused many countries which relied on oil, to further analyze options such as vegetable oil and algae for transportation. Scientists conducted experiments with vegetable oil as a fuel spray and realized the deficiency of it would cause damage to the engines. Afterward, they attempted converting the vegetable oil into biodiesel which turned out to be a success. In the end, algae were never really examined closer. 

Current Trends and Practices

Like any other plant, algae, when grown using sunlight, absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) as they grow, releasing oxygen (O2) for the rest of us to breathe.” Thus, placing this plant near an inhabited place would not be bad. There have been numerous trends supporting algae and its abilities. Algae is popular for its production potential, meaning it might be able to increase the productivity of other plants. Discoveries are in progress suggesting algae can transform into a protein which may prove beneficial in many more aspects. Algae is also being put to the test for being able to remove toxic materials which can be an environmental contributor. Microalgae have the potential to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into certain products which can be helpful. Considering the fast-growing population, we need to make accommodations. In turn, there will be a greater request/need for fuel energy. Thus, biofuels are now an opportune replacement for fossil fuels, specifically algae considering all its advantages. 

Controversies and Debates 

As promising as algae sounds, there are still a few controversial topics about it which we must keep in mind. Certain types of algal blooms can be harmful as they release toxins that can lead to dead fish and sea creatures. Some algal blooms can even “discolor the water”, and create a “smelly odor”. Other types of algae are found in aquatic environments where they form close to coastlines and can also negatively affect life that way. Recently, the state of Texas found a type of algae growing along the Pecos River. “The phenomenon affected 33 reservoirs in Texas along with major river systems, including the Brazos, Canadian, Rio Grande, Colorado, and Red River, and has resulted in the death of more than 27 million fish and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.” Additionally, “Recent algae blooms in Lake Erie were primarily fed by agricultural runoff and have led to warnings for some people in Canada and Ohio not to drink their water.” These are some of the negative results or outcomes algae can have. Some oppose the usage of algae because of these reasons and the impact it may eventually have.

Material and Methods

The very first step was to confirm we had everything that was needed in order to successfully perform the experiment. We purchased our algae kits for Arthrospira platensis, Isochrysis galbana, and Nannochloropsis from the website, Algae Research Supply. We bought 500 milliliters of each kit along with a very strong heating lamp. The purpose of this lamp was to act as a source of light even during the night. We placed the algae in a rectangular flask that had holes on the top to allow oxygen intake. Then the algae flasks were set on a windowsill during the daytime. Every morning, we would shake the flasks with the cultures. This would ensure oxygen and nutrient availability for the algae. It was important to keep the algae warm throughout the entirety of the day, meaning twelve hours of sunlight and twelve hours of the heating lamp. 

Our form of collecting data was by taking pictures every other day. This would allow us to compare the photos over a certain period of time and determine which culture kit grew the most efficiently. After confirming all factors of the investigation, we started trading off the experiment with each other every week. 

Once the culture bloomed, (about every two weeks), we would get together to refresh the culture. This process meant discarding half of each bottle and refilling it with a fresh culture that was being stored in the refrigerator. This ensures that the microbes present in the bottle do not consume the nutrients present. As mentioned, our statistical analysis was dependent solely upon our data collected by taking pictures. Using algae by converting it into biodiesel can be a solution. Fossil fuels have proven to be harmful to the environment. If we need a certain source of energy, and if it harms the earth, we need to find ways to utilize eco-friendly sources. 

Results

At the start of the experiment, the objective was to be able to have all three cultures at least grow to the point where they reached the fourth stage. 

Image result for algae research supply
Figure 1. Stages of Algae growth. From Algae Research Supply, https://algaeresearchsupply.com/

The above picture represents six stages of algae growth (features stages of increasing algae growth from left to right). 

We referred to the above website to determine the growth of our algae. The nan culture grew the most efficiently and was able to reach stage five by the end of the experiment. The spirulina reached stages between four and five. Lastly, the iso culture which did the worst was in-between stages three and four. All of the cultures were able to at least double in growth, and all had somewhat of a green color tone. That being said, one could easily tell that the nan had grown the best. 

Discussion

We predicted that it would take a supposedly short time for the algae to grow. Our hypothesis was accurate in that sense. Our hypothesis was not exactly supported since we had predicted that the nannochloropsis would continue to grow the fastest while the other two cultures would remain at the same level and increase very minimally, if so. There was some unexpected growth in the spirulina culture. If there were a revision made to the hypothesis after the conclusion of the experiment, it would be “The nan culture will continue to grow at a visually confirmable rate, the spirulina culture will grow slightly more than it has compared to past data checks, and the iso culture will not have any identifiable growth change.”. The lit review mentions the use of algae as energy for over half a century. In the early 1950s, the use of algae for biofuel production was the first suggestion for algae of that purpose. Results obtained in those experiments relied on heat and pressure to obtain increased growth of algae. Our experiment focused on heat and light for growth conditions.

Our interpretation of the data was accurate, though once we approached the end of the investigation, we realized that another method of data collection could definitely have proven more useful. Switching the algae to a flask with a wider opening at the top to make any future adjustments easier and allowing more vertical sunlight from above which may impact the growth of the algae may be an important change. We were also considering adding baking powder to the algae which can actually enhance the growth because algae thrive at high pH levels (baking powder increases alkaline levels of a substance). This would also be part of the changes made to a future attempt of this investigation. 

Ishan C. Mehta, Youth Medical Journal 2021

Conclusion 

It has been mentioned multiple times. We cannot advance if the earth is constantly being pulverized by fossil fuels and certain damaging gases. Our research shows us that algae is a very logical solution to solving this major problem. Nannochloropsis, which proved to efficiently meet the requirements one would have when testing the validity of an organism can add to our knowledge about possible biodiesel. Within algae, there are still subspecies which when tested, further analyze our options. Since there was not enough time and space to touch base on other possibilities, our null hypothesis was not accepted. But there are so many types of algae besides the ones tested that could also be very useful when thinking about biodiesel. Implications are a very necessary part of living, and without them, we can not move further. 

References 

Algal Biofuels. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2020, from http://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/algal-biofuels

Elkady, M. F., Ahmed, Z., & Ola, B. (2015, May 27). Production of Biodiesel from Waste Vegetable Oil via KM Micromixer. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jchem/2015/630168/

Flynn, K. (2018, September 7). Algal biofuel production is neither environmentally nor commercially sustainable. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/algal-biofuel-production-is-neither-environmentally-nor-commercially-sustainable-82095

Gerpen, J. V. (2019, April 12). History of Biodiesel. Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://farm-energy.extension.org/history-of-biodiesel/

Hannon, M., Gimpel, J., Tran, M., Rasala, B., & Mayfield, S. (2010, September). Biofuels from algae: challenges and potential. Retrieved April 18, 2020, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3152439/

Knoshaug, E. (n.d.). Algal Biofuels. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from http://www.nrel.gov/bioenergy/algal-biofuels.html

Lo, C. (2020, January 28). Algal biofuels challenges and opportunities: the long road ahead. Retrieved April 18, 2020, from http://www.power-technology.com/features/algal-biofuels-challenges-opportunities/

Weaver, L. (2019, November 24). How to Make Biodiesel From Algae. Retrieved April 19, 2020, from http://www.thoughtco.com/making-biodiesel-from-algae-85138

By Ishan C. Mehta

Ishan Mehta is a junior at Camas High School in Camas, Washington. He is interested in human biology and medicine-related fields.

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