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University of Michigan researchers test algae as fuel source

Abhishek Shirali

For some, algae can be a lakeside nuisance. But for a team of University of Michigan research, it might be the key ingredient for a new fuel.

The National Science Foundation recently granted a $2 million grant to a group of ecologists, engineers, and biologists to investigate green algae’s potential as a biofuel.

The main goal for the researchers: Find what combinations of algae make the most efficient fuel source.

From the University of Michigan’s News Service:

“People have suggested that species diversity might increase the efficiency of algal biofuel systems, but nobody has set up the experiments to test it directly. These will be the first experiments to systematically manipulate the number and types of species in the system to determine how to maximize the yield and stability of algal biofuel,” said ecologist and team leader Bradley Cardinale.

A variety of algae will commingle in over 180 aquariums in a new laboratory at the university. The most promising combinations will then be tested at one of the university’s biological research stations near Pinckney.

The NSF grant money pays for four years of the project. In that time, researchers are hoping to at least get the ball rolling on an useable, algae-based fuel.

"Do I feel like we're going to suddenly make algal biofuels economically viable? No, of course not. That will take a decade-long national research program and billions of dollars," Cardinale said. "But I think this project might be an important piece of the puzzle that eventually gets us there."

- Melanie Kruvelis, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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