Imagine filling up your car with fuel that comes from inexpensive algae that grow quickly, don't use up freshwater supplies and can be cultivated in areas where they won't compete with traditional food crops, such as corn or soybeans. Researchers at North Carolina State University are working to make that a reality, with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The researchers are studying algae as a fuel source because they grow quickly and can be grown throughout the year, providing the potential to create 100 times as much feedstock per acre as conventional crops, says Dr. Bill Roberts, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and primary investigator of the grant. Roberts explains that algae can also be grown on marginal land, so they would not compete with food crops such as corn or soybeans for arable land. Furthermore, Roberts says the researchers are looking specifically at a type of marine algae called Dunaliella, which grows in brackish or salty water so cultivating the primitive, tiny plant-like creatures would not compete for valuable freshwater resources. This is especially important for states like North Carolina, where seasonal droughts affect agricultural and urban demand for fresh water.
"We're looking at microscopic marine algae that produce fatty acids and do not have a cell wall. We plan to genetically modify the algae so that they will continuously produce these fatty acids, which we can then continually harvest," Roberts says. "We also plan to genetically modify the algae to produce fatty acids of a specific length, to expedite the conversion of the fatty acids into fuels that can be used by our existing transportation infrastructure." Specifically, Roberts says, "the goal is to create fuels that can be used in place of diesel, gasoline and jet fuel though jet fuel will be the most technically challenging." In other words, they hope to make fuels that are 100 percent compatible
|Contact: Matt Shipman|
North Carolina State University