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
Don Willmott writes in Huffington Post about Nevada-based Algae Systems, which has built a test plant on Alabama's Mobile Bay to not only turn algae into diesel fuel but ...
James Goodman writes in the democratandchronicle.com about Jeffrey Lodge, an associate professor of biological sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, who knows wh...
As one of the most water-poor countries in the world, Jordan’s current water resources are significantly below the global water scarcity line. Annual rainfall falls under...
K. S. Rajgopal writes in thehindu.com about a new study that demonstrates how macroalgal biomass from Gelidiella acerosa and Gracilaria dura collected from Adri and Verav...
None of us would be alive if sperm cells didn’t know how to swim, or if the cilia in our lungs couldn’t prevent fluid buildup. But we know very little about the dynamics ...
Sebastian Rich reports on PBS Newshour about the Central African Republic city of Bangui, which has been caught in the crossfire between warring Muslim and Christian grou...
Earthrise Nutritionals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tokyo, Japan’s DIC Corporation, is on schedule to complete construction in August, 2015, of a new extraction plant fo...
OriginClear Inc. and partner AlgEternal have announced that, based on AlgEternal’s field tests, they believe their pure algae concentrate, harvested with OriginClear tech...
Tom Redmond and Yuko Takeo report for Bloomberg.com that, after 10 years of developing algae as a nutritional supplement generating $37.8 million in annual revenue, Japan...
Biocrude oil obtained from hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of algae can be an energy-efficient replacement for the fossil crude oil normally used in the production of fue...
Scientists have been investigating the likely future impact of changing environmental conditions on ocean phytoplankton, which forms the basis of all the oceans' food cha...
You know algae are a great food source for you. But what are the best ways to eat it? Jami Foss writes in shape.com about 10 ways to eat algae that are common, healthy an...
Melissae Fellet reports in Chemical & Engineering News that new materials containing ultraviolet-absorbing molecules found in algae and reef-fish mucus could serve as...
Jessie Rack reports for NPR that demand for plant protein of all types is growing in concert with the growing interest in the U.S. to reduce meat consumption. People, fro...
Nitrogen and phosphate nutrients are among the biggest costs in cultivating algae for biofuels. Sandia National Laboratories molecular biologists Todd Lane and Ryan Davis...