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Overfed algae produce more oil for biofuels – Brookhaven

A team of researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory are "overfeeding" algae with carbon to make them produce more oil and serve as efficient raw material for biodiesel and other renewable fuels.

According to Brookhaven biologist Changcheng Xu, who led the research team, what happens to overfed algae is similar to what happens to people who eat a carbohydrate rich diet.

More carbon-rich carbohydrates push our metabolism to increase oil (fat) production and storage. Overfed algae also produce more oil and continue to grow.

"This overturns the previously held dogma that algae growth and increased oil production are mutually exclusive," said Mr. Xu.

Under normal circumstances, algae produce very little oil. During the photosynthetic process, they take in carbon dioxide which is converted mostly into starch and a bit of oil.

In order to produce more oil, algae were previously "starved" of certain other key nutrients, like nitrogen. But while this would increase the production of oil, this would at the same time decrease their rate of growth.

The scientists studied cultures of the algae strain Chlamydomonas reinhardtii - including a mutant strain that can't make starch – to learn why carbon turns into starch rather than oil and how to affect this process.

They found that feeding the algae more carbon maxed out the production of starch to the point that any additional carbon was channeled into oil production without inhibiting growth.

As the energy density of algae oil is eight times that of algae starch, increasing the rate of production of algae oil is of great interest to the biofuel sector.

The researchers will be working on translating what they learned into ways to increase the yield of commercial algal strains currently used in biofuel production. – EcoSeed Staff

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