Generating Hydrocarbons from Microalgae

June 7, 2005 - 12:00pm
Bldg. 90
Seminar Host/Point of Contact: 

Based on the need for the development of photosynthetic organisms for renewable energy production, carbon sequestration and high-value bio-product generation, a program of research will be presented that aims to employ unicellular green algae of the genus Botryococcus, elucidate the biochemistry associated with a unique lipid-accumulation pathway in these species, and develop engineering protocols for the continuous cultivation of the cells, and harvesting of such energy-rich compounds. Botryococcus species produce copious quantities of bio-oils, the secretion of which from the cells leads to the formation of globules in the growth medium. Primary goal of the research is to engineer Botryococcus for enhanced rates of growth and hydrocarbon production beyond the naturally occurring level, and to develop a continuous bioreactor system for simultaneous cultivation of cells and in-situ removal of hydrocarbons from the growth medium. Advances in our understanding of the physiology and biochemical pathway leading to the synthesis of lipid/hydrocarbon, and the application of genetic and engineering tools in this research could make unicellular green algae suitable for the production of important industrial and pharmaceutical compounds. Specific topics that will be discussed include: (a) Properties of photosynthesis, respiration and photochemical apparatus organization in unicellular green algae such as Chlamydomonas and Botryococcus. (b) Utilization of nutrient deprivation as a tool by which to induce and, subsequently, analyze changes in cellular metabolic flux in these organisms. (c) Optimization of the optical properties of the cells for increased efficiency of solar energy conversion. (d) Transformation of Botryococcus, or surrogate transformation of the model green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, for the elucidation of botryococcene biosynthesis (a C30 branched hydrocarbon). (d) Development of an efficient two-phase aqueous-organic solvent partition and hydrocarbon extraction system to alleviate cell-growth inhibition by the accumulated hydrocarbons and provide a basis for bioreactor design and scale-up of hydrocarbon production. These objectives need be pursued through an interdisciplinary project, comprising expertise and research interests in biochemistry, physiology, molecular genetics, fermentation, reaction engineering, and downstream processing. The use of advanced technical resources and know-how, available at Berkeley, provide the basis of substantial efforts in this field, while advancing the science of carbon sequestration, biomass accumulation and specialty product generation through greater understanding of green algal biochemistry. Future practical applications of this R&D might include hydrocarbon utilization by the synthetic chemistry industry and conversion into commercial grade fuel with green microalgae acting as cellular CPP.

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