Scientists and engineers seek to meet three goals in the production of biofuels from non-edible sources such as microalgae: efficiency, economical production and ecological sustainability. Syracuse University's Radhakrishna Sureshkumar, professor and chair of biomedical and chemical engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, and SU chemical engineering Ph.D. student Satvik Wani have uncovered a process that is a promising step toward accomplishing these three goals.
Sureshkumar and Wani have discovered a method to make algae, which can be used in the production of biofuels, grow faster by manipulating light particles through the use of nanobiotechnology. By creating accelerated photosynthesis, algae will grow faster with minimal change in the ecological resources required. This method is highlighted in the August 2010 issue of Nature Magazine.
The SU team has developed a new bioreactor that can enhance algae growth. They accomplished this by utilizing nanoparticles that selectively scatter blue light, promoting algae metabolism. When the optimal combination of light and confined nanoparticle suspension configuration was used, the team was able to achieve growth enhancement of an algae sample of greater than 30 percent as compared to a control.
"Algae produce triglycerides, which consist of fatty acids and glycerin. The fatty acids can be turned into biodiesel while the glycerin is a valuable byproduct," says Sureshkumar. "Molecular biologists are actively seeking ways to engineer optimal algae strains for biofuel production. Enhancing the phototropic growth rate of such optimal organisms translates to increased productivity in harvesting the feedstock."
The process involved the creation of a miniature bioreactor that consisted of a petri dish of a strain of green algae (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii) on top of another dish containing a suspension of silver nanoparticles that served to backs
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