Among the focuses of green energy research are biofuels which are generated by algae or other simple organisms. While this approach to fuel approach definitely has its advantages, it also has the large drawback of being economically infeasible at its current cost. Researchers at Oregon State University however have found a way to offset the costs though by… diversifying, if you will.
Diatoms are a single-cell organism that evolved at the latest in the Jurassic period and are considered a form of algae. What the Oregon researchers have found is that they can be used to produce not only biofuels but also semiconductor material and chitin fiber for biomedical uses. The researchers also are confident that they could produce all of three of those materials at the same time. Potentially this diversification can be used to mitigate the costs of the "photosynthetic biorefinery," as the researchers call it, and make companies more interested in using it.
Sadly, while all the pieces of there, the researchers have not yet gotten the diatoms to produce all three materials at the same time, but a four-year $2 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation will help them continue their research to that ultimate goal. They are also developing theoretical models of the processes involved to allow testing of the technologies that will be involved, to hopefully bring down their costs.