Once the algae grow to maturity, they fall to the bottom of the bioreactor and are harvested for other uses, says Bayless, who is collaborating on the project with Morgan Vis-Chiasson, an assistant professor of environmental and plant biology who specializes in algae research, and Gregory Kremer, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, both at Ohio University.
Until now, the Ohio University team has tested the method on a small scale, growing about 2 pounds of algae in a direct stream of carbon dioxide exhaust with the aid of fluorescent lights. The new, three-year Department of Energy grant will allow them to add the bicarbonate and sunlight systems to the project.
Researchers will use blue-green algae collected by Montana State University colleagues at Yellowstone National Park - where it survives near boiling point temperatures in hot springs, a climate similar to that of a coal-fired power plant. But their ultimate goal is to create technology that can use any type of algae found in abundance in the world.
"We hope to make this a process that doesn't depend on any specific organism, to be used by any power plant," Bayless says.
No one technology can solve the carbon dioxide problem for coal-burning power plants, Bayless stresses, but the algae-fueled bioreactor could serve as an efficient, cost-effective part of the gas emission reduction strategy. He estimates that an average-size plant using this technology could process 20 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions and produce 200,000 tons or more of algae per year.
The bioreactor is one of several energy technologies being developed by Bayless and other scientists with the university's Ohio Coal Research Center to make Ohio coal a cleaner, more viable fuel source. In other projects supported by the Ohio Coal Development Office, the researchers are exploring ways to reduce toxic sulfur
Contact: Andrea Gibson