Green Crude program receives $750,000 in funding

University of Tulsa Chemical Engineering program receives government funding to strengthen its sustainable biofuels research.
By David Greenfield December 9, 2009

The Universityof Tulsa will receive$750,000 from the federal government to expand and improve its research

green crude

Green crude is an oil derived from algae that can be used in similar ways to crude oil. Image Source: Green Crude Production.

programthat takes algae and refines it into gasoline.

The funding comes from an appropriation in theEnergy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act recentlyapproved by the U.S. Congress. Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. John Sullivan led theeffort.

The TU Department of Chemical Engineering will usethe money to expand its work in optimizing the algae-to-fuel conversionprocess, improve technical equipment and hire additional research staff. Italso plans to recruit and fund graduate students and post-doctoral fellows toaid in algae fuel experiments.

Sapphire Energy Inc., an alternative energycompany, partnered with TU in 2007 to produce gasoline from components thatmake up "green crude," an oil derived from algae that can be used insimilar ways to crude oil. TU chemical engineering faculty developed apatent-pending refining process for Sapphire Energy’s green crude in 2008, andTU researchers have succeeded in turning algae into high-octane gasoline.

"The whole philosophy is totally differentfrom other alternative fuel projects," said Geoffrey Price, chemicalengineering professor and chair of the department. "This isn’t biodiesel orethanol. It’s gasoline, just made from another source."

Algae also absorb large quantities of carbondioxide (CO 2 ), creating a carbon-neutral cycle that removes an

Toyota Prius Algaeus

Green crude fueled the Algaeus, a Toyota Prius that became the world’s first hybrid vehicle to cross the United States on algae-based renewable gasoline. Image source: Venturebeat.com

equivalentamount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as are emitted from cars. Producingalgae requires only three inputs — sunlight, CO 2 and photosynthetic microorganisms(like algae) — and does not require large amounts of fertilizer, farmland orfresh water.

"Algae can grow almost anywhere. The excitingthing about this project is that we aren’t using any cropland to produce thealgae, and the process can use non-potable water and non-arable land,"said Daniel Crunkleton, associate professor of chemical engineering anddirector of TU’s Instituteof Alternative Energy.

With research and development, fuel made from algaehas the potential to produce about 50% of the transportation fuel requirementsof the entire country by 2020, using 24 million acres of land. This contrastswith ethanol production from corn, which yields only 4% of U.S. fuel requirements using theequivalent amount of land.

Green crude is said to be compatible with theexisting petroleum infrastructure, from refinement through distribution and theretail supply chain. That downstream compatibility is one of the many advantagesthat caught Price’s attention. As a 30-year veteran researching importantprocesses in the oil refining industry, he knew that alternative fuels couldmore easily become mainstream if they conformed to the manufacturing anddistribution system already in place.

"In addition to difficulties making and usingother proposed fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen, we would alsoneed to overhaul the existing downstream system to use them," Price said."Green crude can be refined at existing refineries, the products can betransported in existing pipelines, sold at gas stations and used in existingvehicles. That’s one of the keys to bridging the gap between fossil andrenewable fuels."

Fuels derived from green crude were usedsuccessfully in several test flights with the commercial airlines Continentaland JAL in January 2009. Green crude also fueled the Algaeus, a Toyota Priusthat in September became the world’s first hybrid vehicle to cross the United Stateson algae-based renewable gasoline.

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– Edited by David Greenfield , editorial director
Control Engineering Sustainable Engineering
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