Developing New Alternative Energy in Virginia: Bio-Diesel from Algae Page: 3 of 115
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Waltham, MA) to select the best approach and reactor design. This objective was met in its
entirety as the reactor chosen (horizontal thin film reactor) was much better suited than fluidized
bed technology, especially for the high solids content of the feedstock algae. Use of a fluidized
bed reactor in our laboratory indicated that the spent residue from algae became sticky and
quickly clogged the reactor bed.
4.2 Objective 2: Determine optimal design and scale of the selected reactor technology and
distillation/condensation system for product separation.
In this objective, we would work with potential manufacturers to select the optimum reactor
design, feed system, and product recovery (condenser) system. This objective was accomplished
as foreseen at the time. We could not predict that we would encounter delivery problems with the
4.3. Objective 3: Purchase and install optimal reactor technology with
We selected Artisan Industries, Inc. as the vendor whose equipment would be best suited
for our reactor system. Moreover, they could deliver the equipment within the timeframe
mandated by the Commonwealth of Virginia for equipment purchased with funds made available
as cost-sharing on this project. The equipment was delivered and installed at the ODU algal farm
near Hopewell, Virginia. We sought other locations on campus but these were not acceptable for
a variety of reasons, the cost of setting them up being a major one. The downside of having the
reactor, now called the Algaenator, at a remote location was that travel to the site for project
personnel was an important scheduling and cost consideration. These activities and the inability
of subcontractors to Artisan to deliver components in a timely manner led to delays in the
timeframe allocated for installation and a request was made and granted to extend the project at
no cost to DOE.
4.4. Objective 4: Determine the optimal character of algal biomass (e.g., algal species, water
content, mix of algal paste + methanol + catalyst) for injection and conversion in the
The major goal of this objective was to determine how algal biomass could be most
effectively fed to the Algaenator for efficient conversion to biodiesel and other co-products, we
encountered two problems. First, we determined that the algae must be dried prior to mixing with
the TMAH/methanol reactants. Second, the feed mixture was not compatible with the original
Algaenator feed system. Some modifications were made to overcome this difficulty with partial
success which limited successful completion of other objectives. The main issue was the dried
algae mixed with methanol/TMAH reagent induced plugged feed lines due to low feed rates
required. This was due mainly to the heat-transfer area size (1 square foot) that was chosen based
on cost and available resources. To overcome the solids feed limitation, we experimented with
soybean oil as a surrogate for algae oil to demonstrate that the Algaenator could efficiently
convert the oil to biodiesel and other products. In doing this, we discovered some very important
by-products of our process. Instead of glycerol, the common transesterification reaction by-
product of soybean oil conversion, the TMAH methylation reaction yields methoxylated
glycerols that are much more valuable chemical products than glycerol. We filed for patents,
realizing that the high value of methoxylated glycerols (more than $100/gallon) improves the
economics of this conversion process.
4.5. Objective 5: Optimize operating conditions in the reactor.
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Hatcher, Patrick. Developing New Alternative Energy in Virginia: Bio-Diesel from Algae, report, March 29, 2012; United States. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc838345/m1/3/: accessed June 24, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.