Hemali Chhapia writes for the Times of India that researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee have come up with a new, low-cost method for production of biofuels. The collaborative research team led by Dr Richa Katiyar, Centre for Transportation Systems, and Prof BR Gurjar, Department of Civil Engineering and Centre for Transportation Systems, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee has, for the first time, investigated the use of crude glycerol (CG), for heterotrophic cultivation of microalgae (namely, Chlorella sp.) in photobioreactors (PBR) to enhance automotive quality biodiesel production.

Speaking about the research Professor BR Gurjar, head of the Centre for Transportation Systems, said, “There is an ever-increasing demand for alternate fuel as the existing reserves of crude are depleting at a rapid rate. Traditionally, the production of biodiesel from microalgae has been a slow process and involves high production costs. Our focus was to overcome the cost related to production of the biodiesel from microalgae and develop a method, which will be fast and cost-effective.”

Dr. Katiyar added, “Microalgae are considered as one of the superior resources for production of biodiesel, due to its ability to produce higher biomass and accumulate more lipids, which are the target material for biodiesel production. To increase the rate of production and to make it cost-effective, we continuously employed the use of heterotrophic cultivation of microalgae using low cost organic carbon-based feed stocks such as agro waste, molasses, municipal and industrial wastes, algal based crude glycerol and fruits extracts.”

The cost of feedstock and expense of operation are two crucial cost components in biodiesel production. The cost of feedstock used for biodiesel production accounts for about 60-70% of the total cost of biodiesel production from microalgae. Moreover, the cost of the substrate used in microalgal based biodiesel production also contributes a huge part of the total cost. Such high costs restrict the production and use of biodiesel.”

In the method being employed by the researchers at IIT Roorkee, the team used the algal-based crude glycerol, which is a low-cost organic carbon source and the main by-product of the biodiesel production process. Crude glycerol works as a media feedstock for cultivation of microalgae, thereby reducing the cost of the substrate to a negligible point. Moreover, the research has shown that the use of crude glycerol caused the enhancement in total lipid accumulation in the algal cells.

The various analyses and testing post production of biodiesel using this method has shown a better quantity and quality of fuel, and the fuel thus produced was also comparable to the existing vehicular fuel standards.

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