Michigan State University has received by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore new algae-based technologies to capture power plant emissions and convert them into valuable products.
The project unites faculty from the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering and the MSU Chemistry Department with industry experts in a three-year cross-disciplinary effort.
Director of the project,Wei Liao, associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, said, “We’ve been running bioenergy experiments with algae on campus for over a decade. We’re now testing a novel technique not only to mitigate power plant emissions, but also to turn them into new sources of revenue.”
Photosynthetic green algae is capable of capturing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. However, the output of a single 100 MW coal-fired power plant is between 3,000 and 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each day which would require thousands of acres of land to culture the algae needed.
To overcome this problem, the scientists will apply a process called “biomass cascade conversion,” which fully optimizes the components of algae for the production of high-value chemicals and biofuels.
A key product of cascade conversion is an environmentally friendly, high-efficiency material that absorbs the carbon dioxide at a higher rate and requires significantly less space. Biomass cascade conversion presents significant economic benefits for the environment and the power plant as well.
Byproducts from the cascade conversion include polyurethanes, biodiesel, and other value-added chemicals and fuels for a wide range of applications.
The project is made possible through a partnership with the T.B. Simon Power Plant on MSU’s campus, where the team will facilitate its experiments and host its equipment.
Liao’s team will be working with PHYCO2, a California-based company produces algae for industrial applications.