A team of engineers and scientists at North Carolina State University has developed a new method for harvesting marine algae. By applying an electric charge they change the chemistry of the algae cell boundary and cause cells to clump together. These algae clumps are easier to collect.
One of the challenges facing algal oil production is the development of efficient methods to collect algae for processing. Most existing methods require expensive equipment, consume a large amount of energy or are difficult to put into industrial practice. In contrast, the new method is inexpensive, requires little energy and easily scales up for commercial production.
As a renewable resource, marine algae can help to break U.S. dependence on diminishing petroleum reserves, while acting as a carbon sink and conserving increasingly limited freshwater resources. Marine micro-algae are potential components in the production of biofuels, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals.