UAE researchers have discovered the oil extracted from microalgae as a promising alternative to diesel, saying it can run motor engines effectively without any modifications.
The breakthrough discovery is believed to be sustainable, biodegradable, and non-toxic and can directly be used in diesel engines. It also produces lower harmful emissions, said the team of researchers at a press conference held yesterday at the UAE University (UAEU).
An Emirati PhD student, Engineer Hanifa Al Beloushi, has been working on the project that was initiated some three years ago at the Chemical Engineering Department of the UAEU. The project is being supervised by Dr Sulaiman Al Zuhair, Associate Professor at the UAEU.
The team has been conducting research on the microalgae, found in freshwater and marine systems, to discover a new environmentally friendly diesel in collaboration with the Mechanical Engineering Department at the UAEU and the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The team is also looking into extending the collaboration to include companies from the local industry.
The microalgae oil production is ten times higher than the best crops, and its composition is similar to that of vegetable oils. “Microalgae have proven to be the best source of oil production, due to its high production rate,” said the Engineer Al Beloushi and Dr Al Zuhair.
Microalgae also utilise carbon dioxide (CO2) that has the concurrent advantages of reducing harmful emissions and the dependency on food substrates, such as glucose. Furthermore, microalgae are capable of growing in saline water, which reduce freshwater loading, said the researchers.
Dr Al Zuhair said the project started with cultivating different species of microalgae to select a suitable strain for biodiesel production. “Various parameters were evaluated including oil productivity, CO2 fixation rates and adaptability to harsh conditions, such as high temperature and salinity,” he said.
He said the enhancement of oil was achieved by controlling the growth media of microalgae strain. “For some strains, the lipid content was increased from just 9 per cent to 21 per cent,” he said.
The researchers have also been looking at developing a process to extract oil from microalgae and simultaneously produce biodiesel. “This could have a profound impact on future energy needs and the environment,” said Dr Al Zuhair.
Dr Ali Rashid Al Noaimi, Vice Chancellor of the UAEU, also appreciated the work of the researchers and said: “as a research intensive university we continue to contribute to this transforming knowledge economy and hope that in time, the UAE can become a biofuel leader.”