Bioreactor redesign dramatically improves yield

April 18, 2012

Scientists explain why a microalgae bioreactor redesign provides an order-of-magnitude improvement over conventional cultivation methods.

Microalgae are single-cell plants that comprise nature's smallest and most efficient photosynthetic engines: all they need to thrive is water, light, and air. When bred under controlled conditions, their applications range from pharmaceuticals to to biofuels. Current microalgae breeding methods, however, perform far below the fundamental bounds allowed by the laws of nature. Scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negrev in Israel have identified strategies to improve algal yield. They describe their work in the American Institute of Physics' (AIP) journal .

The Ben-Gurion team created a that explains some of the principal observations obtained in novel bioreactors that are being designed and built by a separate group at the university, led by Amos Richmond. These bioreactors are essentially flat containers with transparent walls that can be illuminated by sunshine or artificial light. fed from the bottom mix the water so the algae cells move back and forth between the thin illuminated regions near the walls and the dark interior of the reactor, which results in cells being exposed to short light flashes.

These bioreactors produce biomass yields an order-of-magnitude greater than conventional cultivation methods. In their research the scientists explain that it's critical to account for the unique interplay between physics and biology: Intrinsic time scales characteristic of photosynthesis can be synchronized with the flow patterns and illumination of the bioreactors in which the algae are grown. The accompanying dramatic improvement in biomass yield may one day turn microalgae into an economically viable source of renewable energy.

Explore further: Researcher identifies protein that concentrates carbon dioxide in algae

More information: "Physics of Ultra-high Bioproductivity in Algal Photobioreactors" by Efrat Greewald et al. is published in Applied Physics Letters.

Related Stories

'Green' energy from algae

August 6, 2009

In view of the shortage of petrochemical resources and climate change, development of CO2-neutral sustainable fuels is one of the most urgent challenges of our times. Energy plants like rape or oil palm are being discussed ...

Rare toxic algae identified

May 11, 2010

Scientists have identified an unusual species of pathogenic algae that causes human skin infections, described in a new study in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The finding should improve ...

Microalgae could be Texas' next big cash crop

July 6, 2011

Just as corn and peanuts stunned the world decades ago with their then-newly discovered multi-beneficial uses and applications, Texas AgriLife Research scientists in Corpus Christi think microalgae holds even more promise.

Recommended for you

Fusion reactors 'economically viable' say experts

October 2, 2015

Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, and policy makers should start planning to build them as a replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, according ...

Iron-gallium alloy shows promise as a power-generation device

September 29, 2015

An alloy first made nearly two decades ago by the U. S. Navy could provide an efficient new way to produce electricity. The material, dubbed Galfenol, consists of iron doped with the metal gallium. In new experiments, researchers ...

Invisibility cloak might enhance efficiency of solar cells

September 30, 2015

Success of the energy turnaround will depend decisively on the extended use of renewable energy sources. However, their efficiency partly is much smaller than that of conventional energy sources. The efficiency of commercially ...

Extending a battery's lifetime with heat

October 1, 2015

Don't go sticking your electronic devices in a toaster oven just yet, but for a longer-lasting battery, you might someday heat them up when not in use. Over time, the electrodes inside a rechargeable battery cell can grow ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.