Making biofuel from algae presents logistical challenges. Farmers must expertly grow algae in large outdoor ponds where the organisms are exposed to a range of weather conditions. The algal biomass must then be harvested and processed to generate the fuel-feedstock.
Cultivating Algae Using Air Captured CO₂
Scientists are increasingly interested in using photosynthetic microalgae to capture and store CO₂ from the atmosphere. However, today’s algae farms must be supplemented with cheap, steady streams of CO₂ — often from nearby powerplants or fuel refineries — and delivered so far in excess of algae ponds’ capacity that efficiencies are often less than 20%.
The NREL scientists’ objective is to improve the capture and storage efficiency of CO₂ by coupling algae cultivation as photosynthetic and biocatalysis systems to a mechanical tree harboring a passive direct air capture unit.
In concert with techno-economic and life-cycle analysis, the team, led by Lieve Laurens, will study the diet of a highly productive algae species to understand how it might be engineered to better store the greenhouse gas as cell biomass. They will also develop novel CO₂ delivery approaches in combination with the introduction of a highly effective carbonic anhydrase protein.
Other major participants in this research include Arizona State University and Silicon Kingdom Holdings.
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