Algae in city’s Roman Baths could fuelfuture

Algae in city’s Roman Baths could fuel the future

2:34 PM, 13th July 2011
Algae in city’s Roman Baths could fuel the future
Holly collects algae samples from the Baths which she tests in the University laboratories.

BATH, UNITED KINGDOM: The Roman Baths are currently at the centre of a Department of Biology & Biochemistry study aimed at producing renewable biofuels from algae.

With rising fuel oil prices, biodiesel is becoming more important. Biodiesel can be produced by extracting oil from algae cell, with certain types of algae having a higher oil content. Researchers from the university are looking for ways to make the production of biodiesel from algae commercially viable.

Research has been carried out into creating biodiesel from algae over the past 20 years; however limitations currently prevent the technology being used on a large scale.

Holly Smith-Baedorf, PhD student is working on the research project. “Algae are usually happiest growing at temperatures around 25 degrees celsius and that can limit the places in which it can be cultivated on a large scale,” she explained.

The algae growing in the hot water of the Roman Baths is perfect for the research. The protected environment in the baths gives an ideal environment in which Algae cells can adapt. The team has identified seven different types of algae in the baths.

The research team, which also includes collaborators from the Department of Chemistry, led by Professor Matt Davidson and scientists at the University of the West of England, Headed by Dr Heather Macdonald, is growing each of the seven types of algae from the Roman Baths over a range of temperatures and comparing them to ‘control’ algae known for being good for producing biodiesel at normal temperatures.

“The results of this study will help us identify whether there is a particular algae species among the seven identified in the Roman Baths that is well adapted to growing at higher temperatures and also suitable for producing sufficient amounts of biodiesel to make wide-scale production viable,” said Professor Rod Scott, Algae Project Researcher.

The research team is looking for a species of algae with a weaker cell wall, high oil content and possibility to use cheap filtration techniques, keeping production costs low.

“There are a lot of variables that need to be right in order for the wide-scale production of biodiesel from algae to be viable. One species might produce a lot of oil, but if we can’t harvest the algae or break the cell walls easily then the production costs of the biodiesel will rise and it will no longer be a suitable alternative to other fuels,” said Professor Scott.

The research team is now carrying out tests on the species of algae identified to determine which most suits potential future mass growth for biodiesel production.

© University of Bath News

 

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