Photosynthetic green algae have the potential to be small green factories for producing alternative fuels. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have shown that increasing the microbes’ overall metabolism by feeding them more carbon increases oil production as the organisms continue to grow.
Getting microscopic algae to create alternative fuels is not easy, but the payoff could be huge. With eight times the energy density of starch, algae oil could be an ideal raw material for making biodiesel and other renewable fuels. But getting the little guys to make the oil is no picnic – algae would much rather make starch than oil.
Prior to the work done by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory the only known way to get the algae to produce usable amounts of oil was by staving the algae of key nutrients. This make the algae produce oil, but it also stopped the algae from growing.
After extensive testing and research on many different kinds of algae scientists discovered that feeding algae more carbon increased the algae production of oil. With a high carbon diet the algae maxed out the production of starch and began oil production. The major break though was that during this process the algae continued to grow — which means sustainability.
The more carbon fed to the algae the more oil produced, the less carbon fed the less oil produced. Oddly, the human body works in a similar fashion. Eating more carbon rich carbohydrates pushes the human metabolism to increase oil (fat) production and storage.
The research was funded by the DOE Office of Science and the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison