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Crop Biotech Update

WSU Researchers Develop Algae Cultivation Technique that could Advance Biofuels

August 2, 2017

Washington State University researchers have recently developed a way to grow algae more efficiently and make them more viable for several industries, including biofuels. Researchers have long wanted to efficiently produce algae due of its potential benefits. Oil from the algae can be used as a fuel alternative and algae can be used in multiple industries.

Graduate student Sandra Rincon and her advisor, Professor Haluk Beyenal, developed a unique biofilm reactor that recycles carbon dioxide and oxygen, and uses less water and lower light than typical reactors. The system is unique because it allows the algae to simultaneously photosynthesize and "eat" carbon and respire similar to an animal. Because of a removable membrane, it was also easier to harvest than typical systems.

The researchers fed the algae glycerol, a cheap waste product of biodiesel production, and urea, another inexpensive chemical to serve as a nitrogen source. The algae produced contains more fats making it suitable for biodiesel production, and were "fatter" than algae produced via traditional biofilm reactors.