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Scotland’s AccliPhot project explores marine algae for biofuel

February 9, 2013


Scientists at Scotland’s Aberdeen University are running an international research team to
develop biofuel from marine algae.

An international research team led by the University of Aberdeen is researching microalgae from the world’s oceans and seas to make biofuels. Project coordinator Dr. Oliver Ebenhoeh, from the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Complex Systems and Mathematical Biology, says one of the key motivations to look into marine microalgae is that current biofuels created from crops and land-based vegetation are not sustainable.

“We need to find efficient ways of supplying our energy demand in a way that doesn’t compete for valuable resources like arable land or fresh water,” he says. “Cultivating algae using water that can’t be used for irrigation, like salt water or brackish water, makes sense because it’s so vast – it’s all around us and there’s no competition to use the land to grow other things.”

His 12-partner project, hubbed at the University of Aberdeen, intends to understand the principles that guide changes to environments for algae cultivation, and then apply that at industry scale. Dubbed the AccliPhot project, Dr. Ebenhoeh’s team will try to understand more fully how plants and microalgae respond to changes in light and other conditions and use that information to make new products.

With a main focus on biofuels, the study is also looking at possibilities with antibiotics, nutritional supplements and chemical compounds used in the cosmetics industry. “If that is successful then the applications are enormous, because then you can really look into targeted pharmaceuticals or precursors for the chemical industry,” he said.

AccliPhot partners include
the University of Aberdeen (project co-ordinators); University of Verona; University of Geneva; French National Centre for Scientific Research; Pierre and Marie Curie University; The Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg; ETH Zurich; Oxford Brookes University; Cellectis ; Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station (DOMMRS); University of Nantes; and Fermentalg.

Dr. Ebenhoeh says his team will be able to tackle the research in a way no one else has because of the diverse background of the team members. “One of our unique points is our multidisciplinary approach. We have theoreticians with a background in mathematics and physics, working together with biologists and biochemists and three of our partners perform industrial research. This unique composition will help us form a tight connection between academic and industrial research. We hope to make a considerable contribution to the understanding in this field.”

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond praised the initiative, saying that Scotland is leading the way in the energy sector. “Our world class oil and gas industry, now allied to a vibrant renewables sector, is harnessing the power of our boundless wind and water resources to bring jobs and investment to our country and ensure we can power our nation on a sustainable basis. “The AccliPhot project could herald another exciting development in Scotland’s energy story with the team at the University of Aberdeen using cutting-edge techniques to support the development of a sustainable biofuel from microscopic algae.”

The project is due to run for four years and is backed by €4million funding through the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union. Further information can be found the AccliPhot website at www.accliphot.eu

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