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UK and India collaborating on algal bioenergy research

November 19, 2013

In the last 5 years, RCUK, the Government of India and third parties have together invested over £150 million in co-funded research programs.

In the last 5 years, RCUK, the Government of India and third parties have together invested over £150 million in co-funded research programs.

Over £4M of UK funding, with matching resources from India, has been awarded to three research projects that bring together expertise in sustainable algal bioenergy and biofuels from both countries.

The funding is a result of the Sustainable Bioenergy and Biofuels (SuBB) initiative funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research council (BBSRC) in the UK and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in India.

“This funding has enabled cross-disciplinary projects that underpin the generation and implementation of sustainable, advanced, bioenergy in order to address the urgent need to find alternatives to fossil fuels,” said Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive.

The announcement was made as a part of UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport’s keynote address during Research Councils UK (RCUK) India’s recent fifth anniversary celebrations in New Delhi. These new projects form a part of the £150M UK-India research portfolio that RCUK India has facilitated since 2008.

The algal research projects include Durham University and the Institute of Chemical Technology working together in a bid to produce biofuel from seaweed. Green macroalgae, or seaweeds, are a common sight on UK shorelines and have astonishing growth rates. Dr. John Bothwell and Professor Arvind M. Lali hope to take advantage of this to create sustainable energy by converting seaweeds into fuel. The project will receive £1M from BBSRC with matched resources from DBT.

“Using standard crop-breeding techniques, we hope to produce economically productive seaweed strains that can be grown safely and sustainably around the UK’s coastline. We will also look at harnessing the natural processes by which seaweeds are broken down in order to make use of enzymes and microbes that are capable of converting the seaweed biomass into advanced biofuels,” said Dr. Bothwell.

In another project the University of Sheffield and Bharathidasan University will investigate the possibility of using microalgae to convert solar energy and carbon dioxide into the precursors of fuel. Dr. Seetharaman Vaidyanathan and Professor Lakshmanan Uma believe that a greater understanding of their metabolism could help in making use of microalgae’s natural abilities for industrial purposes.

“We believe that a greater understanding of microalgae metabolism, derived through a systems approach, will … enable development of sustainable processes for bio-energy generation. We aim to combine UK and Indian facilities and expertise to carry out detailed systems level characterization on selected isolates that will lead to manipulation of microalgae metabolism for enhanced productivities of biofuel precursors, through informed process optimizations and strain developments,” said Dr. Seetharaman Vaidyanathan.

Bharathidasan University has already established a repository of marine microalgae that has over 500 microalgae isolates in its collection for investigation. The project will receive £1.2M from BBSRC with matched resources from DBT.

Dr. Carole Llewellyn from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Dr. N Thajuddin, of Bharathidasan University, will also pursue a research project regarding growing microalgae in wastewater. “We want to understand the complex and dynamic systems and interactions in wastewater communities. Currently we have a poor understanding on the composition, development, function and interactions occurring within these microalgae and bacteria communities. This funding will help us find out what is there, how they compare and what are they doing. This will be important if we want to produce biofuel from them as the quantity and quality that can be made will be related directly to the growth and the composition of the communities, which in turn is dependent on interactions within it,” said Dr. Llewellyn.

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