"But in these highly alkaline environments, that carbon becomes soluble in water and it can be used," said Gerlach, whose research team includes post-doctoral students, graduate students and undergraduates.
Algal biofuels are receiving so much attention because they have potential where other biofuels face limits, Gerlach added. Crop biofuel can compete with food production for land and fertilizer. Algal biofuels don't face that problem. The oils produced by these alkalinity-loving microbes could also be turned into other products, such as nutritional supplements.
Additionally, the fact that these microbes thrive in a highly alkaline environment lessens the contamination that can complicate efforts to extract commercially viable oils.
The work at the University of North Carolina is taking a holistic look at the future of algal biofuels. That portion of the project is being conducted by Gregory Characklis, who grew up in Bozeman and is the son of the late Bill Characklis, the MSU professor who founded the Center for Biofilm Engineering.
Characklis, a professor in UNC's Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, is compiling data to build computer models that will test the economic feasibility of producing algal biofuels on a commercial scale, while also assessing some of the environmental impacts of the production process.
While Characklis and Gerlach acknowledge that there will be a trade offs, such as higher production costs, there are advantages algal biofuels have over other energy products they are renewable and can be produced without the harsh chemicals used in making petroleum products.
"It's not to say that there aren't challenges associated with algal biofuels. But when we look closely at a system we'd need to scale up to the level of provid
|Contact: Sepp Jannotta|
Montana State University