The production of biodiesel from algae is a rapidly growing field of research. There have been many analyses conducted to evaluate the feasibility of algae as a biodiesel feedstock, and the scope of these analyses ranges from evaluating a single step in the production pathway to characterizing the entire production process. The algal biodiesel production pathway contains several steps (growth, harvesting, lipid extraction, and refining), and the product of each intermediate step has a unique chemical composition and homogeneity. As a result, a variety of tools are needed to analyze all the intermediate products in the algal biodiesel production pathway. Due to the relative youth of the algae-to-fuel research field, the suite of tailored diagnostic tools available for practical monitoring is relatively immature. However, many categories of existing analysis tools may be applicable for researchers to use when evaluating part of the production pathway. These categories include microscopy (light, SEM, TEM, fluorescence), spectroscopy (Raman, NMR, UV-Vis), chromatography (HPLC, GC), and a few others (solvent extraction, MS). Within each category there are many instruments that can provide different information about an intermediate product and the compounds of interest within that product. For instance, scanning electron microscopy can be used to obtain qualitative information regarding the external structure of algal cells, while transmission electron microscopy can be used to image the interior of cells. As another example, Raman spectroscopy can be used to identify general compounds of interest (e.g., lipids) in an intermediate product, while nuclear magnetic resonance provides detailed chemical information for a sample (e.g., specific chemical structure).

At the 4th Energy Sustainability Conference of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in Phoenix, Arizona (May 17-22, 2010), Colin Beal presented a review of the utility of the analytical tools listed above via first-hand data obtained by the authors, Colin Beal, Michael Webber, Rodney S. Ruoff, Robert E. Hebner, Dwight Romanovicz, and Rhykka Connelly. In many cases, these data are among the first applications of a particular tool (e.g., Raman spectroscopy, NMR) for evaluating the intermediate products of algal biodiesel production. This review of available analytical tools is particularly useful for researchers in the algal biodiesel field (academic or industrial) to select analytical methods that adequately evaluate the effectiveness of processing methods.

For more information please contact Rhykka Connelly.

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