|A microscopic image of cyanobacteria stained with fluorescent dyes for fat content. The cyanobacteria are being optimized to produce high-energy fat with an estimated high fuel yield.|
Arizona State University has entered into a two-year research project to optimize the cyanobacterium Synechocystis to serve as feedstock for biodiesel production, with funding from energy company BP and Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz). (Cynanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria, and are sometimes called blue-green algae, although there is no relationship between the cyanobacteria and other organisms called algae.) This basic research will be complemented by parallel development of pilot production capabilities to define the optimum parameters for commercially viable, large-scale, biomass-to-energy conversion.
ASU Professors Wim Vermaas and Bruce Rittmann will lead the scientific R&D efforts while colleague Neal Woodbury will serve as project coordinator. Vermaas will direct metabolic engineering research to optimize the microbial systems while Rittmann will maximize the large-scale pilot production parameters.
Vermass had received a $126,700 grant from SFAz in April 2007 to support an investigation into the function and metabolism of carotenoids—light-protective and anti-oxidant compounds—in cyanobacteria.
Cyanobacteria offer unmatched biofuel yield relative to other potential sources of bioenergy, including arable crops and forestry-based candidates, according to the project leaders. The ASU/BP/SFAz partnership will seek to boost the fatty acid metabolism of Synechocystis to generate more lipids while minimizing competing metabolic pathways.
The ASU team is projecting the development of a roof-top pilot production facility. A series of photobioreactors will be constructed to allow for the growth of cyanobacteria in a closed production system to optimize growth conditions and make the process efficient and cost-effective. The blue-green bacteria are grown in large, transparent tubes that capture sunlight necessary for growth. ASU has dubbed the project ”Tubes in the Desert.“
|A rendering of a rooftop pilot production facility. Click to enlarge.|