BOZEMAN There is a lab in the engineering complex at Montana State University where grow lights stay on night and day, even during the winter holiday season, nurturing various bubbling containers of bright green algae. The room is at the heart of a broad research effort to shed light on a possible renewable energy source of the future.
Robin Gerlach is the MSU professor coordinating research into the production of oil-producing algae, as well the feasibility of commercial-scale biofuel production based on microbes discovered in Yellowstone National Park. Part of a multi-institutional project funded by a grant through the Sustainable Energy Pathways program at the National Science Foundation, it is one of many algal biofuel research projects at MSU in the labs of MSU professors Keith Cooksey, Matthew Fields, Brent Peyton and Gerlach.
The project, which also includes the University of North Carolina and the University of Toledo, is part of a federal effort to tackle some of the fundamental problems in developing enough biofuels fuels to provide up to 50 percent of the nation's transportation fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy funding the project.
"The project takes the groundbreaking work MSU scientists have done on algal biofuels and begins to integrate some of the bigger questions about what this promising technology will look like if it is going to become a major source of sustainable energy," Gerlach said.
One promising line of research involves alkalinity-loving microbes from Yellowstone's hot springs, as well as from Washington's Soap Lake soap is one common household product that is highly alkaline.
Key to the success of algal biofuels is getting the algae to produce lots of oil, or lipid, that can be converted into biodiesel and other fuels. To produce lots of lipid, algae have to consume a lot of carbon in this case, bicarbonate, the same stuff found in baking soda.
Typically, people think alg
|Contact: Sepp Jannotta|
Montana State University