Enhancing microalgae growth to boost green energy production

Nov 06, 2013
Enhancing microalgae growth to boost green energy production
SA Premier’s Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology Colin Raston

(Phys.org) —A groundbreaking nanoparticle system which stimulates the growth of microalgae – a valuable resource used in the production of biofuels and medical compounds – has been developed by a team of Australian scientists, including Flinders University clean technology expert Professor Colin Raston.

The technique, developed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Western Australia, creates an optical nanofilter which enhances the formation and yield of algae photopigments, namely chlorophyll, by altering the absorbed by the algae.

Using algae growing in flasks, the scientists surrounded the flasks with a solution of gold and silver that were tweaked in size and composition to harness wavelengths most favourable for microalgae growth and formation of photopigments.

While light is essential for , too much light, or certain wavelengths of light, can damage the algae and inhibit growth.

Professor Raston, the SA Premier's Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology, said the novel technique enhances the wavelengths reaching the algae which involves "backscattering" of wavelengths which the algae can use, resulting in improved growth.

"It's not as simple as increasing light intensity because the algae will bleach and get toxic stress through the accumulation of oxygen," Professor Raston said.

"But by putting light in the nanoparticles at a wavelength the algae can handle it matches the light the algae are using in the flask, and the algae then absorbs that light which stimulates growth," he said.

"The system uses nanoparticles placed in a separate flask on the outside of the algae flask which means the nanoparticles are not in direct contact with the algae, therefore avoiding any toxicological issues and contamination."

Microalgae is a valuable marine resource used to generate bioenergy and biomass, which has a variety of environmentally sustainable applications including biofuels, medical antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, natural food and soap colourants, cosmetic agents and feed supplements in aquaculture.

Professor Raston said the new technique could ultimately boost the production of commercially viable products.

"The speed and efficiency at which microalgae grow is currently limiting them from being turned into commercially viable products so it's hoped that if we can increase the yield of algae we can produce valuable algae-to-energy products at a much faster rate.

"It's a significant advancement in developing technologies to optimise the growth of for renewable fuels, specialty chemicals and value-added chemical compounds for applications in the pharmaceutical industry."

The research – undertaken in collaboration with Dr Ela Eroglu, Dr Paul Eggers and Winthrop Professor Steven Smith from the University of Western Australia – has just been published in the international peer-reviewed journal Green Chemistry.

Explore further: Light nanofilter system worth its weight in gold and silver

More information: pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2013/GC/c3gc41291a#!divAbstract

Related Stories

Biofuel from human urine

Sep 30, 2013

Micro-algae can grow on undiluted human urine. This offers opportunities for new water purification methods and perhaps even for converting urine into usable chemical substances and biofuels.

Aussie algae fuel green oil hope

Jul 24, 2013

Newly trialled native algae species provide real hope for the development of commercially viable fuels from algae, a University of Queensland scientist has found.

Recommended for you

New alfalfa variety resists ravenous local pest

14 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Cornell plant breeders have released a new alfalfa variety with some resistance against the alfalfa snout beetle, which has ravaged alfalfa fields in nine northern New York counties and across ...

New patenting guidelines are needed for biotechnology

Apr 22, 2014

Biotechnology scientists must be aware of the broad patent landscape and push for new patent and licensing guidelines, according to a new paper from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Rainbow trout genome sequenced

Apr 22, 2014

Using fish bred at Washington State University, an international team of researchers has mapped the genetic profile of the rainbow trout, a versatile salmonid whose relatively recent genetic history opens ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...