|UL Lafayette researchers Ramalingam Subramaniam and Stephen Dufreche experiment with yeast grown on shrimp and sweet potato waste to produce biodesiel.|
Researchers at UL are exploring a plethora of alternative energy models, but say economics will ultimately decide their fate.
By Wynce Nolley
Many might not consider Lafayette, or Louisiana for that matter, to be an area on the vanguard of green energy with our economy so heavily tied to the petroleum industry. They would be wrong, as Lafayette is one of the leaders in green technology in the region and across the county, blazing an eco-friendly path toward renewable and sustainable alternative energy.
Our trailblazer is of course UL Lafayette, specifically its Bioprocessing Research Lab.
“Our underlying current of a lot of what we do is taking the philosophy, ‘Let’s look at what society throws away and see if we could reuse it as a feedstock for making chemicals or power,’” says Dr. Mark Zappi, dean of the UL College of Engineering and leader of this innovative team of more than 20 faculty members.
The lab is a multidisciplinary effort comprising engineers, chemists, biologists, economists and students from the university’s various colleges. It spans several facilities across campus and Acadiana all working to research and implement viable alternative energy sources. The lab’s research is running the gamut from utilizing the capacity for algae to produce biofuels to constructing a gasifier facility to implement several alternative energies to create its own power grid.
Algae is prized as a renewable energy source for its ability to produce high amounts of lipids, which are natural oils. It also leaves behind algal cake that has the potential to create other products, specifically building blocks for other chemicals. But according to Zappi, the lab’s research into turning algae into a viable alternative energy is peaking.
“Algae is at a real turning point,” he says. “It’s a technology that I think holds a lot of promise but is one that is not quite there. The economics have just not proven completely all the way at this point. In my mind it’s an advanced research project that’s not ready for primetime technology.”
The lab is also looking at extracting valuable oils for biofuels from yeast that is grown on sweet potatoes and rice.
“We’re also taking waste materials like sweet potatoes and we’re feeding them to yeast in this case,” says Zappi. “We’re also looking at taking sewage and other waste streams and growing bacteria again all for the idea of getting them fat and having a lot of oil in them.”
UL Engineering has also been working closely with CLECO on an alternative energy production facility in Acadia Parish Industrial Park. The $1.5 million gasifier facility is “99 percent complete,” according to Zappi, and is expected to open at the end of July. The facility will create synthesis gas, or syngas, a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide created by burning feedstock materials like rice stalk hulls and sugarcane bagasse at high temperatures under low oxygen levels. Syngas can then be further processed to create electricity and diesel fuel. The facility will also feature torrefaction capabilities, where wood chips are heated to a point where they closely resemble coal.
One other energy the gasifier facility will explore is a solar-thermal technology. Two rows of 150-foot parabolic mirrors measuring 10 feet high will direct sunlight to heat fluids in a specialized pipe up to 2,000 degrees that transfers the heat to make steam. This process will be about half the cost of traditional photovoltaic solar panels.
Another project the lab has been working on is its research into refining alligator fat into fuel. According to a research paper it published in the science journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, roughly 15 million pounds of fat could become 1.25 million gallons of fuel with as much as 91 percent the energy content as petroleum diesel.
Zappi notes another energy source showing promise is renewable diesel, where waste oils are taken and then put directly in petroleum refineries to make the same chemical as petroleum diesel that contain renewable plant-based and animal-based sources.
“Those I think are the wave of the future where we can take our existing refining capacity but start putting in small percentages at first of renewable oils and plant-based oils and see how that goes over time,” adds Zappi. “I also think that getting waste streams growing bacteria high in oil and yeast and then putting that oil into refineries to make renewable diesel is getting close to being a reality and a mature process.”
But as promising as these green projects are, none is set to replace petroleum any time soon.
“I think we need a toolbox of all kinds of energy sources and let long-term economics decide which way we go,” says Zappi. “But we also have to keep in mind ecological impacts, too. About every alternative energy process right now is probably one technical breakthrough or two away from becoming more economically viable. It’s all about economics.”
Authorities said that a Chevron Corp. subsidiary was still releasing natural gas Sunday from a pipeline off the Louisiana coast where a Saturday incident killed a maintenance worker.
Meet the WWMB Class of 2014, extraordinary women guiding our exceptional community
Software development center represents third such project in Hub City this year.
Elizabeth Abdalla and Abform are poised for a new era of growth.
Lafayette’s most highly regarded attorneys were honored by their own at the Hall of Fame Banquet sponsored by the Lafayette Bar Association.
Collaboration and relationships give you the help you want — and the help you need.
A look at recent promotions, hirings and recognitions from Acadiana's business community.
Who doesn’t like grilled cheese?
There has been much progress in the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, but there is still work to be done.
Amid widespread criticism, two former U.S. senators say they are not lobbying Congress on behalf of a shady Russian bank, although a federal disclosure suggests otherwise.
Banks are the ones taking the financial hit for retail security breaches, and that just doesn’t seem fair.
It’s time to embrace a new regional model for economic development.
The state labor department figures released Friday show the initial claims decreased to 1,961 from the previous week's total of 2,237. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 2,190 claims.
Hurry, rush to Jersey’s Daiquiris Sports Bar in Broussard for a cold one because at noon tomorrow its license is suspended for two months by the state!
The feds say Donald Domingues reported $259,725 as income and paid $64,909 in taxes but he allegedly failed to mention a $351,000 sales commission, which would have bumped his income up to just over $610,000 and his tax liability to $186,000.
Year-to-date sales are outpacing 2013 by 4.7 percent.
“The connector is a crucial part of the larger I-49 South project from Lafayette to New Orleans that would convert U.S. 90 into an interstate-quality roadway.” — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu
Despite what was said at a coastal forum in New Orleans last month, oil and gas insiders contend a settlement is not in the stars for the massive lawsuit filed against nearly 100 energy companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.
Environmentalists, fishermen and others are celebrating a federal judge's ruling that could mean $18 billion in additional fines for BP over the nation's worst oil spill.
St. Louis-based Perficient Inc. says it will establish a software development center in Louisiana that is expected to create 245 jobs.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier's ruling Thursday could nearly quadruple the amount of civil penalties for polluting the Gulf of Mexico with oil from BP's Macondo well in 2010.
Co-founder Ryan Trahan goes solo to keep it local.
Halliburton's agreement to pay more than $1 billion to settle numerous claims involving the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be a way for the company and victims of the spill to avoid years of costly litigation — if all the pieces fall into place.
BP says it recently obtained correspondence between Patrick Juneau's Lafayette law firm and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility showing he argued for liberal compensation, flexible documentation requirements and other terms that would help Louisiana claimants at BP's expense.
A replacement is expected by January to fill the vacancy left when Greg Roberts resigned after allegedly pointing a fake gun at an engineer during a June meeting.