Ateneo scientists working on algae as biodiesel source
Scientists at the Ateneo de Manila University are now working on the mass production of algae to produce alternative biodiesel.
Dr. Teresita Perez, chairwoman of Ateneo's Department of Environmental Science, heads the research on algal mass production to source out oil that can be a good alternative source of fuel.
Perez said the study still has a long way to go. She, however, said that scientists have already isolated potential algal species in the Philippines.
She said that algal oil as alternative biodiesel is not new. Israel is one of the countries leading this research on the development of algal oil for biodiesel. She added that kerogen, the petroleum now used, came from the oil produced by algae in the sea.
"Oil produced offshore is mainly produced by the diatoms in the ocean.. Diatoms are a kind of algae, they're also called phytoplankton and majority of them exist in the unicellular forms," she explained.
"When these millions and millions of these phytoplankton decompose, their stored food in form of oil actually goes down in the sea floor and are embedded in the sediments. It's this alga that is contributing to the "oil depot" in the marine environment," Perez added.
Scientists also said that the Philippines' rich biodiversity may just have the answer for the search for alternative energy sources in light of the rising cost of fuel in the world market. This is because alga is so easy to grow since it can thrive even in drainage water.
Animal feeds, too
Studies have shown that alga in unicellular form when manipulated can have at least 40 to 50 percent oil. Manipulation of the medium involves altering the ratio of the major nutrients to enhance oil production in the cells.
Ateneo scientists are now looking at ways to mass produce the alga without using chemicals as fertilizers. Perez said they are looking at chicken manure or pig waste and even fresh water lakes as source of alternative growth medium.
"Algal mass production will not conflict with food security. At the same time an integrated set up can be done in such as way that the carbon dioxide as a product of aerobic decomposition can be utilized to enhance the growth of the algal species. At the same time, since the alga is also a rich source of proteins and carbohydrates, upon extraction of oil, the algae can still be utilized as food for livestock or fish" she said.
Perez said it will take at least 1,000 to 10,000 gallons of algae to produce a liter of biodiesel. Melissa M. Mañalac