Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Better Monitoring and Diagnostics Tackle Algae Biofuel Pond Crash Problem

10.04.2013
Sandia National Laboratories is developing a suite of complementary technologies to help the emerging algae industry detect and quickly recover from algal pond crashes, an obstacle to large-scale algae cultivation for future biofuels.

The research, which focuses on monitoring and diagnosing algal pond health, draws upon Sandia’s longstanding expertise in microfluidics technology, its strong bioscience research program and significant internal investments.

Because of the way algae is grown and produced in most algal ponds, they are prone to attack by fungi, rotifers, viruses or other predators. Consequently, algal pond collapse is a critical issue that companies must solve to produce algal biofuels cost-effectively. The issue was identified as a key component in the Department of Energy’s National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap.

A three-pronged technical approach

Sandia is addressing the algal pond crash issue in three complementary ways:

Developing a real-time monitoring tool for algal ponds that can detect indications of a problem days in advance of a crash

Successfully applying pathogen detection and characterization technologies honed through the lab’s Rapid Threat Organism Recognition (RapTOR) work

Employing its innovative SpinDx diagnostic device to dig deeper into problems after they’ve occurred and help to identify specific biological agents responsible for crashes

Sandia’s Tom Reichardt, a researcher who works in the lab’s remote sensing unit, led development of an online algal reflectance monitor through an internally funded project. The instruments are typically set up alongside the algal pond, continuously monitoring, analyzing the algae’s concentration levels, examining its photosynthesis and performing other diagnostics.

“In real-time, it will tell you if things are going well with the growth of your algae or whether it’s beginning to show signs of trouble,” said Reichardt. However, he cautioned, while this real-time monitoring will warn pond operators when the ponds have been attacked, it may not be able to identify the attacker.

Quick identification of organisms in ponds is key to mitigation

To help pinpoint the problems, a Sandia team led by researcher Todd Lane recently developed a process to quickly and accurately identify pond crash agents through ultra-high-throughput sequencing using RapTOR.

RapTOR, originally developed for homeland security purposes, was developed to solve the “unknown unknowns” problem – lethal agents that could be weaponized from ordinary viruses or disguised to look harmless. It was designed to serve as a tool to rapidly characterize a biological organism with no pre-existing knowledge.

Lane’s team also created a method for creating a field-ready assay for those agents, something that works quickly and is relatively inexpensive. They are applying SpinDx, a device developed by other Sandia/California researchers that can (among other features) analyze important protein markers and process up to 64 assays from a single sample, all in a matter of minutes.

Finally, a Sandia team led by researcher Jeri Timlin, in collaboration with the University of Nebraska’s Van Etten lab, enhanced the RapTOR diagnostics by studying interactions of a certain virus with algal cells. Using hyperspectral imaging, they identified spectroscopic signatures of viral infections arising from changes in algal pigmentation. These signatures potentially could be exploited for early detection and subsequent mitigation of viral infections in algal ponds.

Advanced tools, instruments could be part of “arsenal” for pond operators

“It’s important for the growth of an algal industry to develop a method where algal pond operators can learn immediately when there’s a problem with their ponds from a biological agent standpoint,” said Lane. “It’s equally important that they learn – within a very short period of time, like 24 hours – what specific agent is eating away at their algae, and have a technology available that could develop an assay to combat the agent. Our tools come very close to accomplishing all of those things.

“We couldn’t really do an exhaustive characterization of all of the kinds of agents that could be at the root of pond crashes,” Lane explained. “But we confirmed some that had been identified before, and we found some others that weren’t familiar to the research community. The important achievement was to develop the methodology, which hadn’t existed before.”

In practical terms, the process developed by Sandia involves a central facility where pond operators would send samples of agents that have appeared in their ponds, and assays that could be deployed back to the pond site. That’s where SpinDx comes in.

Pond site operators, Lane said, know their environments best and, especially with instruments like those developed by Reichardt, understand the signs that could indicate “sick” ponds. He envisions pond operators using a SpinDx-like device as part of their regular arsenal of equipment so they could run early detection tests whenever they sensed instability in their ponds. They could then provide samples to an off-site facility, which in turn would send back assays to allow the operator to investigate the problem more thoroughly and ward off pond crashes before they occur.

“That’s the beauty of SpinDx,” said Lane. “The disks are inexpensive, require little technical expertise and can be manipulated by non-scientists.”

Sandia technology being tested as part of AzCATI algae testbed project

Now that the core principles of pathogen detection and characterization technologies for pond crash forensics have been successfully proven, the next step will be to conduct more robust demonstrations. Serendipitously, Lane’s and Reichardt’s groups will be continuing their work as part of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) led by Arizona State University (ASU), the first national algae testbed. The Sandia team will apply the technologies, collect more data and seek additional collaborations.

“Our results over these past couple of years have been compelling, but now we need to deploy the technology into real-world ponds,” Lane explains. The original work, he says, has moved from the laboratory environment into the operational realm, with only modest research and development now necessary.

Sandia will make use of an algal test bed facility at ASU known as the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI). The facility features algal ponds and closed photobioreactor algae cultivation systems of various sizes and serves as a hub for research, testing and commercialization of algae-based products.

For brief interviews of Sandia remote sensing researcher Tom Reichardt, Sandia biochemist Aaron Collins and AcCATI program manager John McGowen, visit Sandia’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/SandiaLabs.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Mike Janes, mejanes@sandia.gov, (925) 294-2447

Mike Janes | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.sandia.gov

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Stretchable biofuel cells extract energy from sweat to power wearable devices
22.08.2017 | University of California - San Diego

nachricht Laser sensor LAH-G1 - optical distance sensors with measurement value display
15.08.2017 | WayCon Positionsmesstechnik GmbH

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

What the world's tiniest 'monster truck' reveals

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Treating arthritis with algae

23.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Witnessing turbulent motion in the atmosphere of a distant star

23.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>