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Researchers seek to optimize fuel production from algae

Researchers from Lehigh’s Energy Research Center (ERC) and the earth and environmental sciences department (EES) aim to use CO2 from power plants and wastewater from water-treatment plants to grow Nannochloropsis, a green microalgae that produces oil. They have built a prototype photobioreactor (PBR) to test the optimal conditions for growing and harvesting Nannochloropsis. If successful, they could enable cost-effective production of biodiesel fuel from waste CO2, which now must be captured and stored through chemical and physical methods, and removal of excess nutrients from treated wastewater before it is discharged into rivers and streams. The group includes Harun Bilirgen, principal investigator and ERC principal research scientist, Bruce Hargreaves and Donald P. Morris, associate professors of EES, and Ebru Akkaya, ERC visiting research scholar and associate professor of environmental engineering at Yildiz Technical University in Turkey. The project, which began in early 2011, is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania. The effort include the Lehigh County Authority as well as Odyssey Green and Renewable Energy Company, which helped to establish the partnership.

Energy Research Center

Lehigh's Harun Bilirgen tours the Lehigh County Authority's wastewater treatment plant with Odyssey CEO George Acerra.