Friday, September 25, 2009

Xerox PARC Focuses its Magic on Algal Fuels

You may not be aware of all the technological innovations that have come from the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). "PARC has been responsible for such well known and important developments as laser printing, the Ethernet, the modern personal computer graphical user interface (GUI), ubiquitous computing, and advancing very-large-scale-integration (VLSI)." __ Wikipedia

Now PARC wants to do for energy what it has done for computing and microprocessors. It wants to make algal biofuels cheap and abundant.
A set of spirals – essentially channels that get water to swirl in a way that mimics how it flows down drains, discharge flumes and log rides – can potentially be used to separate algae from water with very little external energy. Much of the energy, in fact, comes from the force of the moving water itself.

"We are able to recover 95 percent of the algae with very little energy," said Meng Lean, the principal scientist on the project.

...If it works on a large scale, scientifically calibrated swirling could become one of the more notable advances in algae in the past few years. Separating the algae from water sounds easy, but it's time-consuming and energy intensive. A liter of algae-infused water can be bright green, but it might only contain one to three grams of usable algae. To separate algae now, companies employ drying (which can gobble up 2 percent to 10 percent of the cost of producing fuel) centrifuges (4 percent to 14 percent) or filtration membranes (which get fouled).

"De-watering is a huge challenge. It is probably the single biggest challenge remaining in terms of economics," said Michael Melnick, a visiting scholar at UC San Diego and the CEO of Biolight Harvesting, an algae fuel company in a separate interview recently. _GreentechMedia



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