Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fast hydrothermal liquefaction of algae

A paper in the journal Algal Research reports on increased liquid yields from algae using "fast" hydrothermal liquefaction:

Using small quartz tube "reactors" – which look like tiny sealed straws – Tran heated the reactor containing a slurry made from the kelp biomass and water to 350 degrees C at a very high rate of 585 degrees C per minute.

An issue is that such liquids tend to have a level of nitrogen not suitable for use as fuels.

As to making more oil from algae, there is recent work at Michigan State University:

“Algae provide us with model organisms that rival, or possibly exceed, traditional yeast models,” Benning said. “It’s quite difficult to grow many types of human cells in test tubes. However, we can readily grow, manipulate and study algae, which have the genomic repertoire that make them relevant in their capacity to drive advances in human medicine.”

The discovery was made while tackling the conundrum of algae’s vexing inverse relationship with growing mass versus producing oil. When algae are awake, they grow; when they’re asleep, they produce oil.

“Producing oil is part of the cells’ survival strategy when it’s under stress,” said Chia-Hong Tsai, doctoral candidate with MSU’s Department of Energy Plant Research Laboratory and Department of Plant Biology and co-author. “They go into quiescence to conserve energy and nutrients. That’s when they produce the equivalent of vegetable oil. But to convert them into truly viable biofuel producers, we need them to grow and produce oil simultaneously.”

The secret for making this happen was CHT7 – the gatekeeper that cues cells to wake up or fall asleep. By engineering this protein, Benning’s team might one day develop an organism that can’t figure out how to doze and is always active. For biofuels, this would remove a major hurdle and gives scientists a way to potentially produce high amounts of oil and biomass.


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