Green Power

Airplanes powered by… ALGAE?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Algae are microbes that can turn sunlight into energy that’ is then stored as oil. Algae’s other superpower? Fighting rising gas prices – as BIOFUELl! But this process is inefficient and costly. How can we do better?

Enter Bin Long and a team from Texas A&M University.

They engineered a fast-growing strain of algae to produce a chemical called limonene. Limonene causes cells to clump together in the water. Collecting CLUMPS of algae from a tank would be speedier and cheaper than sucking it up out of a duck pond – right?

RIGHT! Ninety percent of the engineered algae cells clumped together! NONE of the un-engineered algae clumped. The team easily harvested over forty grams of algae per square meter per day- almost DOUBLE the current target!

The ultimate prize? The researchers think turning this algae into fuel could save over NINETY percent of energy costs. Imagine powering trucks, ships, and planes — with green gunk! 

I can’t KELP it…I’m GREEN with excitement!

Reference: Long, B., Fischer, B., Zeng, Y., Amerigian, Z., Li, Q., Bryant, H., Li, M., Dai, S. Y., & Yuan, J. S. (2022). Machine learning-informed and synthetic biology-enabled semi-continuous algal cultivation to unleash renewable fuel productivity. Nature Communications, 13(1). 

Image of algae strain (Synechococcus elongatus UTEX 2973)