Coal mines could be the next place to grow a feedstock for biodiesel.
Researchers in Missouri are looking at feeding the carbon dioxide that is plentiful in coal mines to algae, which can be turned into biodiesel. Biodiesel Magazine reports that the work of David Summers, professor of Mining Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, could prove that underground mines are the perfect incubators for algae:
“You can isolate the algae from the sun in a mine,” Summers said. “We can use artificial light in short intervals and fool the plants into thinking that days and nights are very short [which means they grow faster]. We have a stable temperature underground, ambient conditions and modulated light—this means better control.”
A reactor could be 30 feet deep in a mine and, combined with other aspects suited to cultivation, could increase yields 500 times over algae grown on pond surfaces, Summers told Biodiesel Magazine. Algae could also help coal-producing companies find cheaper alternatives to becoming emissions-free, and may provide a carbon sink for coal-fired power plants.
Meanwhile, Washington University’s Photosynthetic Research Center in St. Louis and the Advanced Biofuels Systems at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center just got $35 million dollars from the Energy Department to look at the oil-producing characteristics of algae. Maybe the two places ought to talk to each other about a little collaboration, huh?