Another key aspect to these studies is encouraging B. braunii to live life in the fast lane, Devarenne explained, using a device invented by Dr. Arum Han, lead researcher on the project and a professor of electrical engineering at Texas A&M University.
Called a "microfluidic lab-on chip," the device is about the size of a business card but has hundreds to thousands of microscopic wells, Devarenne said.
"These little wells can each hold an individual alga cell, and we can treat each well differently in terms of media compositions or light amounts, for example," he explained. "So we can see how different parameters affect growth rate, oil production and biomass accumulation.
"In that little microfluidic device, we can screen hundreds to thousands of different growth conditions at once and do in a week's time what in a normal lab atmosphere would take probably a year to screen," Devarenne added. "So essentially we can miniaturize everything and screen high volumes of algae to find optimal growth conditions to make the best amount of oil." In addition to providing an alternative fuel source to power conventional combustion engines, fuels derived from algae would be easier on the environment, Devarenne said.
"If we harvest algae and process them into fuels, we don't emit any excess carbon into the atmosphere that is currently being emitted from petroleum fossil fuels," he said.
When the fast-growing traits have been combined with the hydrocarbon-producing capabilities in one alga, team member Dr. Tzachi Samocha with AgriLife Research in Corpus Christi will help determine how to grow it on a large scale.
Upon completion of those studies, Devarenne said, the team may work with the fuel industry to scale up production even farther.
"If we can produce an alga that produces high amounts of oil and grows
|Contact: Kathleen Phillips|
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications