Global Developments in Algaculture Point Toward a Bright Future

by Gage Taylor

With the global petroleum industry currently bottoming out, algaculture, the farming of algae to convert CO2 to ethanol, has never looked more appealing. Compared to other methods of biofuel production (corn, for example), it produces more oil and doesn’t put pressure on land use. However, since the amount of oil that can actually be used from a standard ton of algae is only around 28%, it’s far from the most cost-effective method available. There’s also the additional problem of removing CO2 contaminants before the process can even begin, which is currently accomplished through a high-energy, high-cost process. However, developments in Australia and the US are working to make algaculture viable. Continue reading

Solazyme Agal Biofuel Production in the United States

by Mariah Valerie Barber

In early February 2014, in Galva, Iowa at the American Natural Products (ANP) facility and in Clinton, Iowa, at the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), Solazyme, Inc., began its commercial production of algal biofuel and oil. Solazyme, a San Francisco based firm utilizes microalgae, which it refers to as “the world’s original oil producer,” in order to produce biofuel (Solazyme.com). Solazyme creates oil from microalgae by a process of industrial fermentation, during which the microalgae is not fed with solar energy, but with sugar, which results in the production oil. Using industrial fermentation speeds up the natural chemical processes, which algae undergo. Once the microalgae produce the oil, the oil is extracted and made ready for commercial use. Even before the facilities in Iowa opened, Solazyme has had facilities in both Peoria and Orindiúva, Brazil. Peoria has the capacity to manufacture 2,000 metric tons of oil per year whereas the new facilities now are each able to produce 100,000 metric tons of oil per year (Clean Technica.com). Solayzme, which claims to be the first oil producer, has potential to drastically transform the oil industry and its reliance on fossil fuels. Continue reading

Algae Produce More Biofuel When Starved of Nitrogen, But Why?

by Emil Morhardt

Algae, like all organisms, require nitrogen to produce amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and necessary for DNA synthesis. When deprived of nitrogen, some species, such as the micro alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii studied by Valledor et al. (2014), produce more lipids (oil) than normal, presumably as a stored energy source to tide them over until nitrogen again becomes available. These lipids could become the major source of biofuel if their production can be sufficiently ramped up. Valledor et al. wanted a better understanding of what was going on at the molecular level in the nitrogen-deprived algae so that they could eventually modify the species genetically to enhance oil production. They limited nitrogen, and quantified the changes in the cellular mix of protein and metabolic products (the proteome and metabolome), looking at the levels of over 1,200 proteins, 845 of which were recognized as enzymes mediating 157 known cellular metabolic pathways, half of those known for this species. Then they reintroduced nitrogen and followed the process further. Continue reading