Faster Production Of Microalgae Could Help In Creating Biofuels

AlgaeDue to the depletion in the source of non-renewable resources, scientists and researchers world over have begun finding new means of producing fuel. These biofuels need to be efficient, economically producible and ecological sustainable to be feasible for practical usage. Radhakrishna Sureshkumar and Satvik Wani have discovered a method through which it might be easy to create a biofuel which accomplishes the above three targets.

Sureshkumar and Wani have developed a process of producing microalgae faster by influencing the number of light particles with the help of nanotechnology. Algae can be used for the production of biofuels. With this accelerated photosynthesis, the algae is said to generate faster, without affecting the ecological resources. This has been found by Syracuse University’s Radhakrishna Sureshkumar, professor and chair of biomedical and chemical engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. Along with an SU chemical engineering Ph.D. student, named Satvik Wani.

“Algae produce triglycerides, which consist of fatty acids and glycerin. The fatty acids can be turned into biodiesel while the glycerin is a valuable byproduct,” commented Sureshkumar. “Molecular biologists are actively seeking ways to engineer optimal algae strains for biofuel production. Enhancing the phototropic growth rate of such optimal organisms translates to increased productivity in harvesting the feedstock.”

They have invented a bioreactor, which is capable of increasing the growth of algae. This was done with the help of nanoparticles, which selectively scatter blue light as a result of which it augments the algae metabolism. On using the ideal combination of light and confined nanoparticle suspension configuration, the growth enhancement resulted to an algae sample, which was found to be 30 percent higher than what could be procured in control.

This mini bioreactor was created by taking a petri dish which held a strain of green algae scientifically known as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. On top of this dish was another consisting of a suspension of silver nanoparticles, which back scattered the blue light into the algae culture. By varying the size and concentration of the nanoparticle solution, the team found that the frequency and intensity of the light source could be manipulated. Hence, they were able to procure a favorable wavelength for algal growth.

“Implementation of easily tunable wavelength specific backscattering on larger scales still remains a challenge, but its realization will have a substantial impact on the efficient harvesting of phototrophic microorganisms and reducing parasitic growth,” elucidated Sureshkumar. “Devices that can convert light not utilized by the algae into the useful blue spectral regime can also be envisioned.”

This discovery is claimed to be one of the foremost which makes use of nanobiotechnology to uphold microalgal growth. It not only has benefits in the field of biofuel production but also outside it. In the future Sureshkumar and Wani will attempt using these findings to make environmental sensors which can be used for ecological warning systems.

This process has been explained in the August 2010 issue of Nature Magazine.

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