New algae strain could be used to produce cheaper biodiesel

Researchers at the US Montana State University (MSU) are exploring ways to utilise a recently discovered algae strain to produce biodiesel more cheaply, Biofuels International reported on 15 February.

The algae strain, SLA-04, was discovered by researchers from the University of Toledo in an eastern Washington lake containing high levels of carbonate minerals similar to baking soda.

The researchers believe the new strain could be cultivated using only ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, overcoming the costs of supplying supplemental CO2 which had discouraged commercial production of algae biofuel.

“This could transform the algae biofuel industry,” said Robin Gerlach, a professor in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

The research team – which also includes scientists from the Universities of Toledo and North Carolina – were in the early stages of a three-year project to develop a biofuel process for the algae strain.

Brent Peyton, professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of MSU’s Thermal Biology Institute, said the algae found in the Washington lake metabolised ambient CO2 very efficiently in the unique environment it was conditioned to.

“In the past we've found some algae and tried them out (with making biofuel),” Peyton continued. “Now we're using state-of-the-art tools to move the technology forward.”

Blake Wiedenheft, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in MSU’s College of Agriculture, would explore the use of CRISPR genome editing to enhance the algae’s ability to produce oils for biofuel production, the Biofuels International report said.