Using Microalgae To Produce Biomass, Mitigate Carbon Emissions, and Recycle Nutrients

Saturday, February 16, 2013
Room 206 (Hynes Convention Center)
Richard Sayre , Los Alomos National Laboratory, Los Alomos, NM
One of the more environmentally sustainable ways to produce energy is the conversion of solar energy into biomass. Plants and algae use solar energy to reduce carbon dioxide to carbohydrates and oils. Biomass conversion to fuels has undergone substantial improvements in the last 20 years. The first-generation biofuels (alcohol and diesel) were/are produced from only a few crop systems. Typically, only a fraction of the solar energy captured and converted into chemical energy (biomass) is harvestable. Inefficiencies in feedstock harvesting and processing further reduce the recoverable energy and reduce net carbon capture. Next generation biofuel production systems will be expected to have an even lower impact on the environment, greater productivity, greater energy return on investment, and will be directly compatible with the existing energy infra-structure. One of the more attractive next generation biofuel systems is algae. Algae grow rapidly, have high oil content (up to 55% oil), and are capable of producing 2-10 times more biomass per unit land area than any terrestrial crop system. In addition, algae can potentially capture CO2 as bicarbonate in ponds as well as utilize nutrient-rich waste water. Significantly, the single celled algae are also one of the more evolutionary diverse groups of organisms whose biodiversity represents a rich resource for bioprospecting for new genes and biochemical potential. We will report on progress to optimize biomass productivity from algae using transgenic strategies informed from “omics” and biodiversity surveys.