The Sludge of Biofuels
The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) has identified two species of super-algae that contain over 50 percent oil. The researchers suggest that it could be an untapped resource for the production of biofuels.
Using a new technique, the scientists examined strains in the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa, an internationally important algal store based at SAMS in Oban in the Firth of Loren.
Micro-algae produce high levels of oil, carbohydrates and proteins from sunlight. There are only a few species which are grown commercially, for health foods such as Omega-3 oils and pro-Vitamin A. The fatty acids found in micro-algae can also be converted into fatty acid methyl esters, or FAMEs, the molecules used to produce biodiesel.
The SAMS screening revealed two marine strains, Nannochloropis oceanica and Chlorella vulgaris, as being ideal biofuel feedstock.
Dr. Stephen Slocombe, a SAMS research associate in molecular biology, commented that producing biofuels from micro-algae will require further data about what strains will generate high yields.
Currently, there are about 10,000 researchers working on super-algae, but the shortlist of super-algae developed by SAMS are considered the best candidates for genetically engineering the right culture for oil production.
Algae is easily grown and is low maintenance, which make it an attractive option for biofuel production. Commercial algae also requires less land and water than plant alternatives, but production is relatively expensive due to equipment and operating costs.
Several companies and government agencies are currently funding efforts to make algae fuel production commercially viable. The SAMS project is part of the BioMara Project which aims to develop biofuels from marine biomass.