Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Whether Brown Or Red, Algae Can Produce Plenty of Green Fuel

29.08.2008
Rose Ann Cattolico is convinced algae can be a major source of environmentally friendly fuels for everything from lawn mowers to jet airplanes. Now an investment company that works with universities to commercialize early-stage technology invested in the University of Washington biology professor's work, forming a startup company called AXI.

Having studied the physiology of algae for more than 30 years, Rose Ann Cattolico is convinced the plant life found in oceans and ponds can be a major source of environmentally friendly fuels for everything from cars and lawn mowers to jet airplanes.

She's not the only one. Recently Allied Minds, an investment company that works with universities to commercialize early-stage technology, invested in the University of Washington biology professor's work, forming a startup company called AXI.

"People don't realize how many types of algae there are – from single cells to large kelp – and each one develops differently," Cattolico said. "What we're trying to do is choose the best of the best, the ones that produce the right lipids for a particular type of fuel."

AXI won't be in the business of making fuel. Instead, it will work with biofuel producers to develop strains of algae that produce just the right lipids, or oils, for the fuel that the producer wants to make. The methods will not employ genetic modification, Cattolico said.

"It's not like creating a widget. It's a dynamic process that will change all the time," she said.

Unlike many agriculturally important crops such as corn that produce starch as a byproduct of photosynthesis, some algae make lipids. One type of algae might produce oil appropriate for a motor vehicle. Another might be useful for home heating oil. Yet another might produce lipids just right for powering an airliner across the Pacific Ocean. Some strains could produce oil useful for other products, such as the omega 3 fatty acids that make fish oil dietary supplements so popular.

Algae grow rapidly and do not require the use of productive farmland. Algae also can use various nutritional sources, including wastewater, Cattolico said.

A variety of factors made this an opportune time to form AXI, said Erick Rabins, the company's interim manager and vice president of Allied Minds, based in Quincy, Mass. Escalating costs for oil (from about $27 a barrel to more than $100 in five years), rising demand for alternative fuels, the effects of climate change, and growing concern about using foods such as corn and soybeans as fuel stock are making fuel from algae a much more attractive option.

But that won't necessarily translate into rapid development of algae-based fuels, Rabins said. Entire infrastructures, from specialized growing facilities to processing plants, will have to be created, and that will come only after potential producers see the value and make the investment. He speculated that it could take 10 to 25 years before algae-based biofuel is readily available to the public, though specialty uses could appear sooner.

"The most optimistic assessment that I've heard is that it could be six to eight years before there's something that's useable, but the tools and techniques to make it possible are being created right now," he said.

Details of the agreement between Allied Minds and UW TechTransfer to commercialize Cattolico's synthesis methods were not disclosed. The company was drawn to her work, Rabins said, because she has spent so many years making detailed analyses of many different strains of algae, in essence creating a reference database.

Cattolico began studying algae almost by accident. As a master's degree student she worked with terrestrial plant pollen. But it turned out she was allergic to pollen and her physician advised her to change fields, so for her doctoral work she began studying chlorophyll-containing structures within the cells of algae.

That was in 1973, right at the end of another major societal spasm over fuel shortages and high gas prices. As gasoline became more plentiful again, demands for finding alternative fuel sources grew dimmer and "all of the money for research dried up," Cattolico said.

In the current fuel debate, Cattolico readily points to the merits of algae-based biofuel. But she believes it is only a part of the answer to high fuel prices and replacing current fuels with climate-friendlier alternatives. She would like to see a broad commitment by government and industry to quickly develop the alternate energy sources needed to reduce environmental problems, increase national security and hold down costs.

"What we need is a Manhattan Project for fuel. If we can get a Manhattan Project for fuel, it won't take 25 years," Cattolico said.

For more information, contact Cattolico at (206) 543-9363 or racatt@u.washington.edu, or Rabins at (206) 335-9707 or erick.rabins@alliedminds.com

A high-resolution image can be downloaded at http://uwnews.org/images/newsreleases/2008/August/20080827_pid43455_aid43454_algae_sourceimage.jpg

Vince Stricherz | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>