Upset in Oil Production from AlgaeCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: June 25, 2012 10:43AM
In the effort to replace fossil fuels as a primary source of power for the planet, many researchers are looking to algae and other simple organisms for fuel production. These organisms are like chemical reactors that can take in a batch of ingredients and produce specific chemicals we find useful. In some cases the algae is not efficient enough for researchers, so they try to find ways to speed it up. For example, some algae when fed carbon will produce either starch or oil. To encourage the production of oil, traditionally researchers would starve the algae of nitrogen, but this had the unfortunate side effect of preventing the algae from growing. Researches at Brookhaven National Laboratory have found another way to increase oil production, but it does not stop the algae from growing.
This unexpected result was achieved by actually just feeding the algae more carbon to convert. Previously, researchers were making assumptions about the algae based on higher plants, but this research examined these assumptions and found algae, in this context, behaves more like humans than other plants. The human body produces fat only after it has consumed more carbohydrates than it needs for its preferred means of energy storage. The algae similarly stops producing the preferred starches at a certain point, and instead focuses on making oil.
This discovery could greatly affect the production of biofuels. By no longer limiting the growth of algae, the ability for the algae to produce oil can increase and in general last longer. The next step for the research is to see how well it translates to the algae currently being used for biofuel production, instead of the model algae used in the experiment.