New liquid fuels – out of algae?

#FutureFuels – part 4

For algae, most people think of slippery carpets in the sea, sushi or cosmetics. Only a few people know that the small plants are also ideal as a raw material for greenhouse gas-reduced liquid fuels and that they could make an important contribution to climate protection.

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Around 20 million households use oil heating systems within the EU. If these systems are supplied with greenhouse gas-reduced liquid fuels in the future, they have a climate neutral perspective. For these new fuels, various raw materials can be considered in the generation process. One of them are algae. The chemical composition of algae already contains compounds similar to the ones in liquid fuels. Research is on-going on the production of fuels from algae, using the Biomass-to-Liquid (BtL) process. The algae are transformed under high pressure into crude oil, which can be reused in the refinery process.

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This liquid fuel made out of algae, a “third-generation” biofuel or bioliquid, can then be used normally in today's oil heating systems. Provided algae-based fuels are produced economically, they can bring many advantages: algae fuels have reduced emissions, they do not compete with food production, the existing infrastructure can be used further; only the nature of the liquid content in the heating oil tank is changed.

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A number of research institutions particularly in Europe, America and Asia, are investigating the potential for liquid fuels out of algae. Several oil companies are also active in this field. Here a few examples of research projects in Germany:

The research project “AlgenFlugKraft” at the Technical University of Munich intends to identify which species of algae are suitable for industrial use in the case of kerosene production, as well as which types of algae would best develop under different climatic conditions.

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The “AUFWIND” project at Forschungszentrum Jülich also looks into the technical and economic possibilities for the production of algae and their conversion to bio-kerosene, which could replace conventional petroleum-based kerosene as aviation fuel.

At the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, in coordination with the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus-Senftenberg, the conversion of microalgae into fuels is being researched with the aim of developing a refinery process for the production of algae-based fuel components able to be dropped in. In the first step, the algae biomass is transformed into a "biocrude" similar to heavy oil. Through further refining, the crude is transformed into high-quality fuels by hydrogenating processes in which the biocrude is upgraded by the addition of hydrogen. These processes already exist in refineries, so that the further processing of biocrude could be integrated into existing refinery processes.

TU Freiberg facilities

(Freiberg University facilities. Photo: Eurofuel)

Find out more in the Freiberg Study on the potential of liquid fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.


Other #FutureFuels articles

Part 1: What future liquid fuels to heat our homes?

Part 2: New liquid fuels... out of biomass and waste?

Part 3: New liquid fuels... out of the sunshine? 

Part 5: Future fuels: Climate friendly... and affordable?

Interested to learn more?

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Register to our workshop on Future Liquid Fuels, which will take place in Brussels on Wednesday 6 June 2018.