Innovations

UT scientists design synthetic trees to secrete algal biofuel

April 8, 2013
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Dr. Halil Berberoglu in the laboratory with a sample of algae for biofuel production

Dr. Halil Berberoglu in the laboratory with a sample of algae for biofuel production

Dr. Halil Berberoglu, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, is leading a research effort to produce renewable biofuel using solar energy. To address the energetic and economic challenges of conventional algal biofuel production, Dr. Berberoglu, together with his Ph.D. student Thomas Murphy, have envisioned a novel system that mimics the way we obtain sap from a maple tree. In this case, instead of harvesting maple syrup, we would harvest biofuels from a synthetic tree.

In this concept, algae cells are grown as photosynthetic biofilms on porous surfaces that keep them hydrated and provide them with the nutrients they need for growing to maturity. Once the biofilm is matured, the supply of certain nutrients is stopped and the growth of cells is inhibited. At this point, the algae are provided with the necessary inputs to carry on photosynthesizing and secreting out energy dense molecules, such as free fatty acids. These are carried away from the cells in small channels mimicking the veins in plants and concentrated using evaporation-driven flows.

These concentrated energy-dense molecules can then be converted to a wide variety of biofuels. Once the algal biofilm reaches the end of its productive life over several months, it is removed, a new biofilm is grown to maturity, and the cycle continues. In this way, the available solar energy, water, and nutrients are directed more towards the production of fuel precursors and less towards growth, achieving a higher solar energy conversion and resource utilization efficiency.

Dr. Berberoglu and Ph.D. student Thomas Murphy grow and evaluate the performance of algal biofilms in special chambers where they can control the environmental inputs.

Dr. Berberoglu and Ph.D. student Thomas Murphy grow and evaluate the performance of algal biofilms in special chambers where they can control the environmental inputs.

Some of the initial work on developing algae biofilm cultivation was previously performed at Dr. Berberoglu’s laboratory by Dr. Altan Ozkan, a former Ph.D. student of Dr. Berberoglu and now an assistant professor at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey. Drs. Berberoglu and Ozkan cultivated algae as biofilms on impervious surfaces under surface flow of nutrients in the laboratory. Moreover, they studied the fundamental aspects of algal cell attachment and formation of algal biofilms.

In the current work, Dr. Berberoglu and Mr. Murphy are focusing on the transport of nutrients, metabolites, light and thermal energy in the photosynthetic biofilms. For this Mr. Murphy has been developing computer models that couple light and mass transport with cellular kinetics for understanding and optimizing how these affect the productivity of the synthetic tree.

Dr. Berberoglu and Mr. Murphy are working with NASA to design synthetic trees using photosynthetic biofilms, which use much less water and energy than conventional photobioreactors.

Dr. Berberoglu and Mr. Murphy are working with NASA to design synthetic trees using photosynthetic biofilms, which use much less water and energy than conventional photobioreactors.

To further this technology, Dr. Berberoglu is also collaborating with Dr. Alexandre da Silva (UT ME) studying evaporative-driven transport of nutrient solutions in porous media, with Dr. Matt Posewitz of Colorado School of Mines who is genetically engineering algal strains to secrete the desired bioproducts, and with Drs. Lee and Brad Bebout of NASA Ames who are ecological experts working on improving the diversity of species in the photosynthetic biofilms.

Read More

More Like This…

HOME Algae Industry Jobs

Copyright ©2010-2013 AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article in its entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact editorial@algaeindustrymagazine.com. A.I.M. accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

From The A.I.M. Archives

— Refresh Page for More Choices
By sending algae into space, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist and his team will be able to study some of the key mechanisms that control plant growth and...
A new, outdoor system at the University of Dayton Research Institute has been producing a high volume of algae since its installation in the summer of 2013, even through ...
The Guardian reports that Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), Canada-based Solarvest has created an inventive system utilizing a specific algal strain to grow and produce EPA ...
Steven Mufson reports for the Washington Post that Algenol Biofuels estimates hackers have attempted to break into its computers 39 million times in four months this year...
Perth, Western Australia-based Algae.Tec Limited has announced that the Reliance Group has converted the first tranche of options following the positive progress achieved...
In an effort to propel the algae industry forward, the Algae Testbed Public Private Partnership (ATP3) offers a series of hands-on specialized workshops suited for partic...
Matthew Carr was recently named executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), the leading trade association for the algae industry. His presence will soon b...
Channelnewsasia.com reports on three young Spaniards who harvest seaweed, a culinary delicacy, as a way for them to stay out of Spain’s troubled financial waters. 35-year...
Phys.Org reports that scientists Jolanda Verspagen and Jef Huisman of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands have concluded that rising CO2 concentrations in the at...
Bookending the upcoming Algae Biomass Summit, Sept. 29-Oct.2 in San Diego, will be industry tours to give attendees a first-hand look at the latest progress in technical ...
Portuguese cement facility, Secil, and microalgae biotechnology company, A4F, also based in Portugal, have formed AlgaFarm, a joint venture to develop the use of cement f...
Analia Murias 
reports for fis.com that Chilean exports of products made from macroalgae generated a total of $195 million US in the first seven months of 2014, according...
James “Jamie” Levine took over the reigns at Sapphire Energy in July of this year as former President and CEO Cynthia “CJ” Warner stepped down, retaining her role as chai...
A team of Michigan State University algae researchers have discovered a cellular "snooze button" that has the potential to improve biofuel production and offer ...
Algix, parent company of Solaplast, will be inaugurating their algae-to-plastic facility in Meridian, Mississippi, on November 14, 2014. Solaplast's facility will be focu...
Hortidaily.com reports that in Nevele, Belgium, Tomalgae is growing algae in a former tomato greenhouse. Their company was formed when tomato cultivation entrepreneurs Pi...
Iran-based Qeshm Microalgae Biorefinery Co. (QMAB) has launched a biofuel being marketed as BAYA®, produced from a species of Nannochloropsis (strain 6016) isolated from ...
Tess Riley writes in TheGuardian.com about how spirulina may be able to combat malnutrition in developing countries. Spirulina is one of the oldest life forms on Earth, c...