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Improving Algal Biofuel Production


MSU IGERT student Rob Gardener discovered that something as simple as baking soda, when added at a specific time in the growth cycle of algae, can trigger a dramatic increase in the production of biodiesel lipids. Baking soda may work because it gives algae extra carbon dioxide necessary for its metabolism at a key point in its life cycle. The lipid is composed of triacylglycerol (TAG), the key precursor to bio-diesel and bio-jet fuel. Current testing has shown lipid productivity to at least double with half the growing time. This is likely to have a large impact on the biodiesel industry. It is a discovery that makes algae a much more viable source of biofuel. The research is part of interdisciplinary work in algal biofuels, and has benefited directly from IGERT training and development.

This research was widely featured in the popular media: 11 Nov 2010;
Science Daily 17 Nov 2010; KBZK local CBS affiliate 10 Nov 2010; New Energy and Fuel 16 Nov 2010; 24 Nov 2010; 12 Nov 2010; 16 Nov 2010; NSF Science 360 28 Jan 2011.

Address Goals

The advances in engineering biofuel production from algae realized by student Rob Gardner were in part an outgrowth of the interdisciplinary nature of the IGERT Program and the fact that research projects are established across disciplinary boundaries (in this case, algal biology, biochemistry and engineering). This type of training allows students to pursue problems that have interdisciplinary solutions.