Genetically Modified Microalgae Could Produce Biofuel


Biofuel is regarded as a cleaner alternative for fossil fuels, and cleaner is better therefore researchers are looking for new ways to “harvest” biofuels. According to a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, unicellular microalgae could be used to produce biofuel thanks to a technique that consists of genetically modifying these organisms.

The UC researchers believe that microalgae are “too green” and with little adjustments, we could produce tons of hydrogen and hydrocarbons. In order to make such big amounts of biofuel, the scientists tested the micro-organisms by minimizing the number of chlorophyll molecules used to harvest sunlight without interfering or damaging the process of photosynthesis.

During their study, the Berkeley team of scientists noticed that the microalgae are deploying 600 chlorophyll molecules during photosynthesis, but they think that the organisms can function normally with only 130 molecules, and they will use the other molecules to produce hydrogen and hydrocarbons.

According to Tasios Melis, co-author at the study, converting sunlight into biofuel using this technique will be a very hard thing to do as we will have to adjust the bio-culture tanks in a way that the light can penetrate all the layers of the algae. Melis describes this process of maximizing the efficiency of the sunlight-biofuel conversion as “cellular optics.”

“Progress is substantial to date, but not enough to make the process commercially competitive with fossil fuels. Further improvement in the performance of photosynthesis under mass culture conditions, and in the yield of “biofuels” by the microalgae are needed before a cost parity with traditional fuels can be achieved,”said Melis.

The researchers have chosen microalgae because these organisms have a high rate of photosynthesis, about 10 times higher sugarcane and corn which are regarded as main sources of biofuel. I think that first we have to solve the biofuels issue – do they harm the environment even more than biofuels do? Well, we don’t know this just yet, some studies say that they do, some say that they don’t so we’ll have to wait, hopefully this won’t take too long.

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