Navigation Links
Ancient diatoms could make biofuels, electronics and health food -- at the same time
Date:9/17/2012

CORVALLIS, Ore. Diatoms, tiny marine life forms that have been around since the dinosaurs, could finally make biofuel production from algae truly cost-effective because they can simultaneously produce other valuable products such as semiconductors, biomedical products and even health foods.

Engineers at Oregon State University concede that such technology is pushing the envelope a bit. But it's not science fiction many of the needed advances have already been made, and the National Science Foundation just provided a four-year, $2 million grant to help make it a working reality.

In theory, and possibly soon in practice, these amazing microscopic algae will be able to take some of the cheapest, most abundant materials on Earth - like silicon and nitrates - and add nothing much more than sunshine, almost any type of water, and carbon dioxide to produce a steady stream of affordable products.

The concept is called a "photosynthetic biorefinery." Sand, fertilizer, a little sun and saltwater, in other words, might some day power the world's automobiles and provide materials for electronics, with the help of a tiny, single-celled microstructure that already helps form the basis for much of the marine food chain and cycles carbon dioxide from the Earth's atmosphere.

"This NSF program is intended to support long-range concepts for a sustainable future, but in fact we're demonstrating much of the science behind these technologies right now," said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor and head of the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. Rorrer has studied the remarkable power of diatoms for more than a decade.

"We have shown how diatoms can be used to produce semiconductor materials, chitin fibers for biomedical applications, or the lipids needed to make biofuels," he said. "We believe that we can produce all of these products in one facility at the same time and move easily from one product to the other."

Biofuels can be made from algae, scientists have shown, but the fuels are a comparatively low-value product and existing technologies have so far been held back by cost. If this program can help produce products with much higher value at the same time like glucosamine, a food product commonly sold as a health food supplement then the entire process could make more economic sense.

Much of the cost in this approach, in fact, is not the raw materials involved but the facilities needed for production. As part of the work at OSU, researchers plan to develop mathematical models so that various options can be tested and computers used to perfect the technology before actually building it.

The key to all of this is the diatom itself, a natural nanotechnology factory that has been found in the fossil record for more than 100 million years. Diatoms evolved sometime around the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs flourished. A major component of phytoplankton, diatoms have rigid microscopic shell walls made out of silica, and the capability to biosynthesize various compounds of commercial value.

"Regular algae don't make everything that diatoms can make," Rorrer said. "This is the only organism we know of that can create organized structures at the nano-level and naturally produce such high-value products. With the right components, they will make what you want them to make."


'/>"/>

Contact: Greg Rorrer
rorrergl@engr.orst.edu
541-737-3370
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Ancient, bottom-dwelling critter proves: Newer isnt always better
2. British team set to embark on ambitious Antarctic mission to penetrate and sample ancient buried lake
3. British team set to embark on ambitious Antarctic mission to penetrate & sample ancient buried lake
4. Ancient enzymes function like nanopistons to unwind RNA
5. Ancient genome reveals its secrets
6. Ancient fossils reveal how the mollusc got its teeth
7. Climate and drought lessons from ancient Egypt
8. Feces fossils yield new insights into ancient diets and thrifty genes
9. New species of ancient rodents hint at what could be worlds oldest grasslands
10. Giving ancient life another chance to evolve
11. Ancient global warming allowed greening of Antarctica
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:11/15/2016)... , Nov. 15, 2016  Synthetic Biologics, ... developing therapeutics focused on the gut microbiome, today ... of 25,000,000 shares of its common stock and ... stock at a price to the public of ... to Synthetic Biologics from the offering, excluding the ...
(Date:6/27/2016)... 27, 2016 Research and Markets has announced ... report to their offering. ... to grow at a CAGR of 12.28% during the ... on an in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts. The ... coming years. The report also includes a discussion of the key ...
(Date:6/21/2016)... British Columbia , June 21, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... appointed to the new role of principal product ... been named the director of customer development. Both ... NuData,s chief technical officer. The moves reflect NuData,s ... teams in response to high customer demand and ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:12/5/2016)... , Dec 5, 2016 Research and ... "Biomarkers - Technologies, Markets and Companies" to their offering. ... , , ... their discovery using various -omics technologies such as proteomics and metabolomics. ... new tests are also based on biomarker. Currently the ...
(Date:12/5/2016)... 2016 /PRNewswire/ - Resverlogix Corp. ("Resverlogix" or the ... and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) for the Company,s ... (CVD) patients has completed a second planned safety ... as planned without any modifications. The DSMB reviewed ... or efficacy concerns were identified. The DSMB will ...
(Date:12/4/2016)... ... December 02, 2016 , ... A proposed five-year extension ... federally funded research and development is welcome news for the photonics community, say ... , As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) compromise agreement finalized ...
(Date:12/2/2016)... 2016 More than $4.3 million was raised last ... DHMD ). The gala was held at the American Museum ... and honored Alan Alda and ... and medicine and the public understanding of science. Since the ... event has raised $40 million for the Laboratory,s research and ...
Breaking Biology Technology: