Making waves in biofuels

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By Roger Snodgrass

In the growing catalog of renewable energy options, biofuels have shown promise and provoked consternation with fluctuating prospects in recent years.

Producers of first generation biofuels from food crops trampled rainforests in Brazil and spiked cornfield real estate speculation in the American Midwest.

A second generation has found a more sustainable and less disruptive approach by extracting energy from indigestible cellulosic fibre in non-food plants and trees.

One of the most promising candidates for a biofuel source turns out to be scum. Otherwise known as algae, the green microorganisms that flourish in ponds are relatively rich in lipids, which are plant-like equivalents of fats and oils.

“Algae has the benefit of being better at sequestering carbon of any cellulose producer that we’ve found so far,” said Greg Goddard, a LANL bioscientist, who is adapting an acoustic focusing technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory to concentrate and manipulate algae cells for droplets of vegetable oil.

The lab is working under a cooperative research and development agreement with Solix Biofuels, Inc., a Colorado-based alternative energy production firm with one of the most advanced industrial production systems for creating biofuels.

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