Making biodiesel from scum

Utah State University researchers have developed an approach that takes oil from pond scum and converts it to an algae-biodiesel fuel that could be commercially available by 2009.

Algae, a common variety of which is known as pond scum, can produce up to 38,000 litres of oil per acre and can be grown virtually anywhere.

Most current biodiesel comes from soybean and corn oil. As supply and demand grows, so does the price of soybeans and corn. According to the researchers, people and animals rely on soybean and corn as a food commodity, eventually causing competition between commodities and growing enough product.

Meeting the demand for biodiesel would require the world to use virtually all of its arable land, said Lance Seefeldt, USU professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Seefeldt, along with several fellow USU professors, formed the Biofuels Program to develop new and emerging technologies that will produce methane, biodiesel, hydrogen and alcohols from renewable, carbon-dioxide-neutral energy sources, such as consumer and agricultural waste and sunlight.

The state of Utah has awarded the USU Biofuels Program $6m for five years through the Utah Science and Technology Research Initiative. The research has already set in motion several spin-off and industry relationships, and one patent has already been issued, with four others pending.