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Lab selected for ultrasonic technology

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The National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB) has selected the lab’s Ultrasonic Algae Harvesting technology for Phase II development. The technology is based on LANL’s R&D 100 Award-winning Ultrasonic Algal Biofuel Harvester. Research and development to refine the technology at lab-scale has been in progress through NAABB since April 2010.

Lab-scale experiments completed in October 2011 showed that the technology is cost effective and energy efficient. Phase II will be the design and development of a harvester unit that will operate at 100 liters per hour minimum algal culture feed rate. The scaled-up ultrasonic algae harvesting unit will be built and tested in the field by early 2013. NAABB’s goal is to produce new technologies that can be implemented by their commercial partners and others developing the algal biofuel industry.

Algae usually are grown under dilute cultivation conditions in a typical cell density of less than 1 gram per liter of water (999 parts water to 1 part algae). Adding to the challenge of removing so much water is scale. The optimal size of the commercial “open-pond” algae production facility is envisioned at more than a million liters of culture.

The ultrasonic harvester works at select sound wave frequencies to focus and concentrate the fluid-borne microalgae cells. Based on their lab-scale device, the LANL research team expects to concentrate 25 gallons (94.6 liter) of algae per hour for less than a penny per gallon of the lipid biofuel produced. Such an improvement would drastically reduce the cost of separating water from algae.

The NAABB selected the ultrasonic harvesting technology for scale-up following a rigorous review. Five harvesting technologies and four extraction technologies that are being developed within the NAABB program were compared to each other and to market benchmarks for projected operational costs and energy consumption.

The LANL team includes Babs Marrone, James Coons, Taraka Dale, and Daniel Kalb. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funds the research through the NAABB, the nation’s largest consortium for research and innovation in advanced algal biofuels.The work supports the lab’s Energy Security mission area and the Materials for the Future science pillar.