Green Crude program receives $750,000 in funding
The University of Tulsa will receive $750,000 from the federal government to expand and improve its research program that takes algae and refines it into gasoline.
The funding comes from an appropriation in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act recently approved by the U.S. Congress. Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. John Sullivan led the effort.
The TU Department of Chemical Engineering will use the money to expand its work in optimizing the algae-to-fuel conversion process, improve technical equipment and hire additional research staff. It also plans to recruit and fund graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to aid in algae fuel experiments.
Sapphire Energy Inc., an alternative energy company, partnered with TU in 2007 to produce gasoline from components that make up “green crude,” an oil derived from algae that can be used in similar ways to crude oil. TU chemical engineering faculty developed a patent-pending refining process for Sapphire Energy’s green crude in 2008, and TU researchers have succeeded in turning algae into high-octane gasoline.
“The whole philosophy is totally different from other alternative fuel projects,” said Geoffrey Price, chemical engineering professor and chair of the department. “This isn’t biodiesel or ethanol. It’s gasoline, just made from another source.”
Algae also absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), creating a carbon-neutral cycle that removes an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as are emitted from cars. Producing algae requires only three inputs — sunlight, CO 2 and photosynthetic microorganisms (like algae) — and does not require large amounts of fertilizer, farmland or fresh water.
“Algae can grow almost anywhere. The exciting thing about this project is that we aren’t using any cropland to produce the algae, and the process can use non-potable water and non-arable land,” said Daniel Crunkleton, associate professor of chemical engineering and director of TU’s Institute of Alternative Energy.
With research and development, fuel made from algae has the potential to produce about 50% of the transportation fuel requirements of the entire country by 2020, using 24 million acres of land. This contrasts with ethanol production from corn, which yields only 4% of U.S. fuel requirements using the equivalent amount of land.
Green crude is said to be compatible with the existing petroleum infrastructure, from refinement through distribution and the retail supply chain. That downstream compatibility is one of the many advantages that caught Price’s attention. As a 30-year veteran researching important processes in the oil refining industry, he knew that alternative fuels could more easily become mainstream if they conformed to the manufacturing and distribution system already in place.
Fuels derived from green crude were used successfully in several test flights with the commercial airlines Continental and JAL in January 2009. Green crude also fueled the Algaeus, a Toyota Prius that in September 2009 became the world’s first hybrid vehicle to cross the United States on algae-based renewable gasoline.