Optimising the conditions for biocrude formation using microfluidics

an article by Claire Weston, PhD student at Imperial College London

If the Lab on a Chip HOT articles are anything to go by, using microalgae as a feedstock for biofuel is definitely a flourishing research area.  Microalgae is a particularly attractive feedstock as it grows rapidly, has a large oil content, and can be grown pretty much anywhere.

David Sinton and co-workers at the University of Toronto have previously published in Lab on a Chip on this topic and have now reported their work on optimising the conditions for converting microalgae ‘biomass’ into crude biofuel (‘biocrude’). The process by which this is achieved is known as hydrothermal liquefaction. High temperatures and pressures are employed to break down the organic compounds from the biomass into the oils that make up biocrude.

a) Fluorescence images at increasing reaction time; b) Fluorescence and dark-field imaging of fluids at inlet and outlet.

The Sinton lab have developed a microfluidic chip in order to accurately control the reaction conditions of this process and also to study the effect of changing conditions on the biofuel that is formed. The continuous flow and small volume of the chip allow very fast heating of the algal slurry so reaction times can be accurately studied – in fact the heating rate achieved is the fastest reported to date. The slurry was analysed in situ by fluorescence imaging and changes to the fluorescence signature were monitored. Over the course of the reaction, the fluorescence signal due to chlorophyll disappeared and a new peak developed, indicating the formation of the aromatic compounds that are a characteristic component of crude oil and plant based oils.

Further analysis of the samples collected from the chip outlet found that the energy content (measured by the elemental composition) of the biocrude reached saturation after short reaction times – much before the fluorescence signal stopped changing. In addition to this, non-fluorescent droplets could be seen inside the reaction chamber, as shown in the diagram on the left, which were presumed to comprise of aliphatic oils. These findings indicate that analysis of the elemental composition alone is insufficient to measure chemical conversion to biocrude and methods such as fluorescence imaging should also be employed.

This work is the first example of using a microfluidic platform in hydrothermal liquefaction research and just goes to highlight the versatility of lab-on-a-chip systems.

To download the full article for free* click the link below:

Biomass-to-biocrude on a chip via hydrothermal liquefaction of algae
Xiang Cheng, Matthew D. Ooms and David Sinton
Lab Chip, 2016, 16, 256-260
DOI: 10.1039/C5LC01369K

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About the webwriter

Claire Weston is a PhD student in the Fuchter Group, at Imperial College London. Her work is focused on developing novel photoswitches and photoswitchable inhibitors.

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*Access is free through a registered RSC account until 29/02/2016.

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Microsystems based diagnostics: new developments and novel tools

Reported by Shavon Kumar, CSIR, South Africa

The third international Micro-Med-A workshop took place in Stellenbosch, South Africa, from 16-19 September 2015. The workshop provided the perfect platform to bring together leaders in the field of microsystems technologies as well as industry partners and medical experts to discuss new ideas and strategies to develop cutting edge point-of-care (PoC) diagnostics to address solutions for real world problems by building a collaborative network across various disciplines and by crossing geographical borders.

The theme for the workshop was the development of rapid point-of-care technologies for various applications relating to health and the environment.

The workshop opened with a proposal put forth by the chairmen, Kevin Land from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa and Jan Korvink from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. It was suggested that the outcome of the meeting should be the collaborative effort of experts in various fields working on a single extreme PoC project with combined expertise and combined resources, where each group would focus on an aspect of the bigger project with the common goal of addressing one defined problem.

The conference started with presentations from clinicians and pathologists whose daily work involves diagnostic testing and interactions with patients for whom rapid PoC tests would ultimately be aimed. Point of care is defined as a low cost, rapid diagnostic test or service that can be completed at the point of testing, independent of a centralised high infrastructure laboratory. In 2014 the recorded population of South Africans living in rural settings was 35.7%. Such settings do not have the infrastructure for high-tech laboratory and medical care facilities. In many instances visiting a clinic for medical attention comes at a cost of a day’s wage while also incurring travelling expenses. Furthermore, many people do not make the required follow up visits to receive results or treatment. Therefore PoC tests are well suited to the African landscape where clinics and medical facilities are far from rural communities.

The event presented work by industry partners and representatives from commercial companies which provided a fresh outlook on collaborative networks. This bridged the gap between academics and industry where the latter can serve to provide well established platforms that can be integrated into developed or developing technology without re-inventing the wheel. This provides a twofold advantage, mainly reduction to development costs and time to market.

Paper based microfluidic devices or µPADs are an attractive platform for diagnostic tests. Paper is cheap, easily accessible and easily printed on; it can be burnt and therefore there is no need for costly biohazard waste disposable facilities. Paper is easily stacked making it easy to transport and therefore deliverable to end users. Furthermore, paper is self-wetting and does not require instrumentation for readout. Therefore, paper based tests are gaining more recognition as the solution to PoC tests as it meets many of the ASSURED criteria for rapid PoC. Needless to say, there are many research groups developing PoC tests using paper substrates and this was showcased at the workshop. Some of the technologies presented at the Micro-Med-A workshop showed paper based PoC applications in the developmental stage of research for the detection of toxic metals and bacterial detection in the environment. This further emphasised that paper based tests can address an important niche in diagnostics.

The workshop fostered an environment for excitement in the field of microsystems for African health through many interactive discussions and insights from participants of various backgrounds. The workshop enabled new networks to be established, while strengthening existing ones, and mapped the overall bigger picture of what is required to address health issues, particularly in under-resourced settings such as those in rural Africa and India.

The workshop closed with many suggestions from delegates for future meetings with the groundwork being laid for collaborative efforts. Information on this workshop can be found at www.micromed2015.co.za. The next workshop will be held in September 2017. People interested in receiving details once they are available should contact Kevin Land.

Delegates who attended the MicroMed 2015 workshop in South Africa.

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Continuous inertial microparticle and blood cell separation in straight channels with local microstructures

QR-on-a-chip: Computer-recognizable micro-pattern engraved microfluidic device for high-throughput image acquisition

Acoustofluidic particle manipulation inside a sessile droplet: four distinct regimes of particle concentration

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Microfluidic Assessment of Mechanical Cell Damage by Extensional Stress

Rigorous buoyancy driven bubble mixing for centrifugal microfluidics

3D Printed Nervous System on a Chip

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Highly focused high-frequency travelling surface acoustic waves (SAW) for rapid single-particle sorting

Engineering anastomosis between living capillary networks and endothelial cell-lined microfluidic channels

Programmable V-type Valve for Cell and Particle Manipulation in Microfluidic Devices

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Differentiation of stem cells into beating cardiac tissues on paper!

an article by Claire Weston, PhD student at Imperial College London

The Biomicrofluidics System Group at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics in China have published an exciting paper in Lab on a Chip where they have used paper as a material to grow and differentiate human pluripotent stem cells.

Recently, there has been much research into generating biocompatible materials for creating microenvironments for the growth of stem cells, with the aim of improving their regenerative potential. Using paper as the material has several advantages over the conventional polymers – it is cheap and readily available, it is biocompatible, and the bundles of cellulose microfibers that make up paper provide a porous 3D structure.

Identification of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent stem cells on paper

The authors used three different types of paper to identify which were best for stem cell growth – printing paper, filter paper, and nitrocellulose membrane. The paper was pre-coated with the required gels and the stem cells were seeded onto the surface. Initially, the stem cells were differentiated into cardiomyocytes prior to being added to the paper to test if the differentiated cells were able to grow on the different types of paper. The cells aggregated on both printing and filter paper and demonstrated spontaneous beating function, but not on the nitrocellulose membrane. These tissues also maintained their beating function for up to three months. The stem cells were then added to the paper prior to differentiation and the required cardiac differentiation procedures were carried out. The cells differentiated to the cardiomyocytes on all three paper types, however the cardiac-specific marker was only expressed weakly on the nitrocellulose membrane. Within two weeks a strong beating function was observed for the printing paper, but not the other paper types. The authors suggest the printing paper had a better pore size to support the cells than the filter paper, while the nitrocellulose membrane didn’t have a favourable microstructure to support growth of cardiac tissue.

Along with this article, there are some impressive videos showing the cardiac tissue beating that are well worth a watch!

To download the full article for free* click the link below:

Human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived beating cardiac tissues on paper
Li Wang, Cong Xu, Yujuan Zhu, Yue Yu, Ning Sun, Xiaoqing Zhang, Ke Feng and Jianhua Qin
Lab Chip,
2015, 15 , 4283-4290
DOI:
10.1039/C5LC00919G

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About the webwriter

Claire Weston is a PhD student in the Fuchter Group, at Imperial College London. Her work is focused on developing novel photoswitches and photoswitchable inhibitors.

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*Access is free through a registered RSC account until 18/12/2015  – click here to register

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Controllable Generation and Encapsulation of Alginate Fibers Using Droplet-Based Microfluidics

Digital Droplet PCR on Disk

3D cardiac µtissues within a microfluidic device with real-time contractile stress readout

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Lab on a Chip awards prestigious prizes at MicroTAS 2015

The µTAS 2015 Conference was held in October at the Hwabaek International Convention Center in Gyeongju, Korea.

Sarah Ruthven, Executive Editor of Lab on a Chip, was in attendance at the conference to announce the prestigious Lab on a Chip awards which include the Pioneers of Miniaturisation Lectureship (in partnership with Corning Inc), the Widmer Young Researcher Poster Prize, the Art in Science award (sponsored by NIST) and the µTAS video competition (in partnership with Dolomite Microfluidics).

“Pioneers of Miniaturization” Lectureship

Professor Dino Di Carlo was announced as the winner of the 10th “Pioneers of Miniaturization” Lectureship, sponsored by Lab on a Chip and Corning Incorporated and supported by the Chemical and Biological Microsystems Society (CBMS). The “Pioneers of Miniaturization” Lectureship rewards early to mid-career scientists who have made extraordinary or outstanding contributions to the understanding or development of miniaturised systems. Professor Di Carlo received a certificate, a monetary award and delivered a short lecture titled ‘Microfluidic Frontiers’ at the conference. More information can be found on the competition blog.

Left to right: Sarah Ruthven (Lab on a Chip) and Professor Di Carlo (winner).

Art in Science Award

Lab on a Chip and the National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) presented the Art in Science award to Matteo Cornaglia from the Laboratory of Microsystems, EPFL in Switzerland. The award aims to highlight the aesthetic value in scientific illustrations while still conveying scientific merit. More information on the winning photograph can be found on the competition blog.

Left to right: Darwin Reyes (NIST), Matteo Cornaglia (winner) and Sarah Ruthven (Lab on a Chip).

µTAS Video Competition

Lab on a Chip and Dolomite Microfluidics announced Dan Kirby and the Ducrée Lab, Dublin City University the winner of the 2015 µTAS Video Competition supported by the Chemical and Biological Microsystems Society (CBMS).

µTAS participants were invited to submit short videos with a scientific or educational focus. The winners, the Ducrée Lab, recreated an 80’s music video titled “Spin me right round” to promote new areas of research in lab-on-a-disc platforms. The full video can be viewed on the competition blog.

Left to right: Mark Gilligan (Dolomite), Dan Kirby (winner) and Sarah Ruthven (Lab on a Chip).

Widmer Young Researcher Poster Prize

The Widmer Poster Prize was awarded to Jinho Kim from Inje University, Korea, with a poster titled “Single-cell isolation of circulating tumor cells by microfluidic technology”.

Left to right: Jinho Kim (winner) and Sarah Ruthven (Lab on a Chip).

Congratulations to all the winners at the conference! We look forward to seeing you at µTAS 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.

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