Energy and Environmental Science author Aaron Wheeler (University of Toronto) was recently interviewed in Chemistry World about his recent paper describing a technique that can screen algae with the aim of generating more efficient biofuels.
Here’s the beginning of the interview:
You recently reported an exciting technique that can screen algae grown under different wavelengths with the aim of generating more efficient biofuels.1 Can you tell me more about this work?
Sure, this was the first time we have developed a method for the area of renewable energy. I had a student, Steve Shih, who is now a postdoc at the Joint BioEnergy Institute in California, who became interested in the idea that we can cultivate algae to produce biofuel. Of course this is an idea that has been around for a while.
So, in looking at the problem it seems that the biofuel we can collect from algae does not have the required energy density relative to the cost needed to extract and generate fuel, to compete with non-renewable resources. There are ongoing efforts to develop ways to encourage algae to generate more lipids. The idea is that the algae generate stores of lipids that we can then extract and refine into fuel.
We saw an opportunity; we thought we might be able to build a microfluidic device that could rapidly screen for conditions that folks haven’t looked at before just to see if we could find some conditions that encouraged the algae to produce more lipids. A lot of time we start these projects but don’t end up with an exciting result, but this one was really exciting in that we believe we have identified a brand new phenomenon which is that, at least for this particular algae, if you culture them under yellow light they experience some sort of stress which causes them to increase lipid production!
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