Nav: Home

Algae cultivation technique could advance biofuels

July 24, 2017

PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State University researchers have developed a way to grow algae more efficiently -- in days instead of weeks -- and make the algae more viable for several industries, including biofuels.

Their work was reported in the journal Algal Research.

Researchers would like to produce algae efficiently because of its potential environmental benefits. Oil from the algae can be used as a petroleum alternative and algae also can be used as food, feed, fiber, fertilizer, pigments and pharmaceuticals. Growing and harvesting it in wastewater streams could also reduce the environmental footprint of many manufacturing processes.

But its use in industry hasn't caught on primarily because it requires a lot of time and water to grow. Generally, large ponds are required, and harvesting is labor intensive. Researchers have begun developing biofilm reactors to grow the algae, but the reactors aren't efficient because of pH or temperature variations or a limited supply of carbon dioxide gas.

Led by graduate student Sandra Rincon and her advisor, Haluk Beyenal, professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, the researchers developed a unique biofilm reactor that recycles gasses and uses less water and lower light than typical reactors.

The algae produced was full of the fats that make it suitable for biodiesel production and "fatter" than other biofilm reactors have produced. Because of a removable membrane, it was also easier to harvest than typical systems.

The system is unique because it allows the algae to simultaneously do photosynthesis like a plant while also "eating" carbon and respiring like an animal, said Beyenal. The researchers fed the algae glycerol, a cheap waste product of biodiesel production, and urea, another inexpensive chemical that serves as a nitrogen source for the algae. The system's design means that carbon dioxide and oxygen are recycled in the system.

"The cell, in fact, becomes a very efficient factory in which the nutrients are supplied by the medium, but the cell metabolism meets its carbon dioxide requirements internally," said Rincon.

Like many new research efforts, the project was challenging, said Beyenal. He credits Rincon with her sustained efforts in spite of several setbacks that might have led others to quit and give up on the work.

"The idea is new," said Beyenal. "Sandra demonstrated that it worked at the lab scale."

The researchers have filed a patent application on the technology and are working to optimize the process. Funded through a Fulbright fellowship, the research is in keeping with WSU's Grand Challenges, a suite of research initiatives aimed at large societal issues. It is particularly relevant to the challenge of meeting energy needs while protecting the environment.
-end-


Washington State University

Related Algae Articles:

Algae team rosters could help ID 'super corals'
U.S. and Australian researchers have found a potential tool for identifying stress-tolerant ''super corals.'' In experiments that simulated climate change stress, researchers found corals that best survived had symbiotic algae communities with similar features.
Algae shown to improve gastrointestinal health
A green, single-celled organism called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii has served as a model species for topics spanning algae-based biofuels to plant evolution.
How do corals make the most of their symbiotic algae?
Corals depend on their symbiotic relationships with the algae that they host.
Algae and bacteria team up to increase hydrogen production
A University of Cordoba research group combined algae and bacteria in order to produce biohydrogen, fuel of the future
Algae as a resource: Chemical tricks from the sea
The chemical process by which bacteria break down algae into an energy source for the marine food chain, has been unknown - until now.
Left out to dry: A more efficient way to harvest algae biomass
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba develop a new system for evaporating the water from algae biomass with reusable nanoporous graphene, which can lead to cheaper, more environmentally friendly biofuels and fine chemicals.
Algae could prevent limb amputation
A new algae-based treatment could reduce the need for amputation in people with critical limb ischemia, according to new research funded by the British Heart Foundation, published today in the journal npj Regenerative Medicine.
Turning algae into fuel
A team of University of Utah chemical engineers have developed a new kind of jet mixer for creating biomass from algae that extracts the lipids from the watery plants with much less energy than the older extraction method.
The algae's third eye
Scientists at the Universities of Würzburg and Bielefeld in Germany have discovered an unusual new light sensor in green algae.
How some algae may survive climate change
Green algae that evolved to tolerate hostile and fluctuating conditions in salt marshes and inland salt flats are expected to survive climate change, thanks to hardy genes they stole from bacteria, according to a Rutgers-led study.
More Algae News and Algae Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.