The main logjam (there are others) in terms of the viability of getting fuel from algae lies with separating the hydrocarbons (lipids, or fats) from the rest of the green mix, which is largely water.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at how to dewater sludges, and it’s a difficult process because the solids in sludge are very hydrophillic: that is, they love water a lot. As with sludge, so with algae, in this regard.

Thus, there’s a need for theoretical and experimental work on this problem. The theoretical work could include a back-of-the-envelope estimate (to be refined, perhaps), of the cost of using heat to remove the water from the algae, using thermodynamic considerations. That calculation is out there somewhere– in a proposal to DOE, perhaps (if it’s not, it sure ought to be).

The main experiment to be doing involves developing a synthetic algae, made by mixing its components. Then experiment in the lab on separating out the hydrocarbons, using heat, cell disruption, extraction methods, etc. with an eye to optimizing the methods and determining costs. Much of what would be learned could translate into other biofuel processes, and if I were in proposal-writing mode, I’d sure emphasize this point.

This idea might make for an interesting contest DOE could run after there’s some consensus on making this synthetic algae. Who can develop the best way of separating the hydrocarbons?