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Malaysia: Producing Biofuel from Algae

July 13, 2011

Marilyn Tenn in the Borneo Post talks about biotechnologists and researchers from Swinburne University of Technology, in Sarawak, Malaysia pooling their expertise to meet the challenge of developing viable alternative fuels. The university has been involved in research on microalgal lipids since 2008, in a concerted effort by Swinburne biotechnologists and researchers to accumulate the expertise and know-how.

The Swinburne project centers around chlorella protothecoides, and the researchers have been extracting lipids to better understand precursors for the production of biofuel for diesel engines. Fermentation studies were also undertaken at Swinburne University to develop an understanding of the kinetics of cell growth and lipid biosynthesis.

According to associate professor Clem Kuek, who heads up the project, “This knowledge is essential for the accurate and detailed evaluation of the various options for biodiesel production via microalgae. Under various conditions of production, the efficiency with which raw material is converted by the alga into the biofuel precursor was examined. It is from such mass balances that the economics of biofuel production can be determined.”

Swinburne Sarawak Campus pro vice-chancellor and chief executive, professor Helmut Lueckenhausen, added: “As always, science needs not only to be doable, it needs to lead to affordable outcomes and processes. “This project begins the contribution of Swinburne Sarawak to the development of algal biotechnology in the state.”

The results from this project are enabling the university to make a significant contribution to the development of algal biotechnology in Sarawak—for instance, in the screening of local algae for their biofuel potentials. Another example of Swinburne’s attention to algal biotechnology is in its collaboration with a Sarawakian aquaculture company to examine the culture of particular microalgae for incorporation into fish feed, to increase the profile of highly-unsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 oils) of the empurau fish that the company produces.

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