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Making oil from algae: Towards more efficient biofuels

Alternative Energy
The mechanism behind oil synthesis within microalgae cells has now been revealed by a research team. This discovery could contribute to the development of biofuels, they say.

Differences in cell contents based on presence of saltwater.
Credit: Image courtesy of Kobe University

The mechanism behind oil synthesis within microalgae cells has been revealed by a Japanese research team. This discovery could contribute to the development of biofuels. The findings were published on April 4 in Scientific Reports.

The research was carried out by a group led by Professor HASUNUMA Tomohisa and Academic Researcher KATO Yuichi, both from the Kobe University Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation.

During the 20th century the petrochemical industry developed rapidly, leading to depletion of fossil resources and climate change on a global scale. In order to solve these issues and realize a sustainable and environmentally-conscious society, we must make use of renewable biomass such as plants and algae.

The amount of biomass on Earth is approximately 10 times the amount of energy we currently consume. Roughly half of this biomass grows in aquatic environments, and ocean-based biomass such as microalgae can produce oil without using up arable land and drinking water.

Microalgae can grow with light, water, carbon dioxide and a small amount of minerals, and their cells divide quickly, meaning that they can be harvested faster than land-based biomasses. Algae can also be harvested all year round, potentially offering a more stable energy supply.

Many species of algae are capable of producing large amounts of oil (lipids), but this is the first time that researchers have captured the metabolic changes occurring on a molecular level when lipids are produced in algae cells.

Focusing on marine microalgae, Professor Hasunuma’s group found that Chlamydomonas sp. JSC4, a new species of green alga harvested from brackish water, combines a high growth rate with high levels of lipids. The research team developed an analysis method called “dynamic metabolic profiling” and used this to analyze JSC4 and discover how this species produces oil within its cells.

Professor Hasunuma’s team incubated JSC4 with carbon dioxide as the sole carbon source. 4 days after the start of incubation, over 55% of cell weight consisted of carbohydrates (mainly starch). When saltwater comprised 1-2% of the incubation liquid, the team saw a decrease in carbohydrates and increase in oil, and 7 days after the start of incubation over 45% of cell weight had become oil.

JSC4 has a high cell growth rate, and the lipid production rate in the culture solution achieved a speed that greatly surpassed previous experiments. At the start of the cultivation period starch particles were observed in the cells, but in saltwater these particles vanish and numerous oil droplets are seen.

Using dynamic metabolic profiling, the group found that the sugar biosynthesis pathway (activated when starch is produced) slows down, and the pathway is activated for synthesizing triacylglycerol, a constituent element of oil. In other words, the addition of seawater switched the pathway from starch to oil production. They also clarified that the activation of an enzyme that breaks down starch is increased in saltwater solution.

The discovery of this metabolic mechanism is not only an important biological finding, it could also be used to increase the production of biofuel by improving methods of algae cultivation. Based on these findings, the team will continue looking for ways to increase sustainable oil production by developing more efficient cultivation methods and through genetic engineering.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Kobe University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 — ScienceDaily

28 Comments on "Making oil from algae: Towards more efficient biofuels"

  1. Dave thompson on Wed, 19th Apr 2017 11:07 pm 

    Micro organic alge oh boy now we are saved fire up the tesla.

  2. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 2:35 am 

    Well, if I take 2 hours with a strainer down at the beach, I get a cupful of Algae. After 3 weeks of chemical processing, I get 8 drops of oil. Problem solved!

  3. deadlykillerbeaz on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 4:21 am 

    Plant peanuts, lots of them, extract the peanut oil from the peanuts, pour the peanut oil into a tank, run a fuel line to a diesel engine, start the engine, do something with it, lots of things can be done with an engine, you’re in business.

    All from peanuts. Rudolf Diesel would be happy.

    At 3000 lbs per acre, 50% oil, 1500 lbs of oil per acre, divide by 6.2 pounds per gallon weight, 242 gallons of peanut oil from each acre, a thousand acres would yield 242,000 gallons of peanut oil.

    You’ll be able to do a lot with 242,000 gallons of peanut oil. It’ll take 110 days for the peanuts to grow, however, it will be worth the wait.

    It’ll add up faster than oil from algae.

  4. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 4:37 am 

    what if i eat some of the peanuts. does it reduce the fuel economy ?

  5. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 4:39 am 

    will the diesel engine run on the ‘Honey Roasted’ version?

    Or would that gum up the injectors?

  6. Cloggie on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 5:15 am 

    The article says nothing about conversion efficiency solar radiation –> biomass production.

    Conversion efficiency sunlight into energy:

    Solar panel: 15%
    Biomass: ca. 4%


    P.S. you can produce bio fuel as a niche product in rural areas for those folks who have not yet switched to electric. But there is nothing more efficient in converting solar energy than a solar panel: install it and harvest electricity for 30 years and let the rain keep your panel clean. Bio fuel in contrast needs to harvested every year again, processed, pressed and what not.

    Electromotors are simple, cheaper, go on for ever and are nearly maintenance free.

  7. Davy on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 5:39 am 

    Time and money in today’s modernism creates many wonderful things. What is running out is time and money. How long before these wonderful activities are rarities let alone scale up industrially to make a difference? Once you realize what these wonderful activities have resulted in then you see the absurdity of it all. How many people are engaged in activities such as these that do not represent a realistic scale? How many of these activities are without merit considering our planetary nightmare? We are playing games with danger at the door yet we continue to believe advancing is progress.

    The real breakthroughs at this point need to be with our wisdom. A proper wisdom would say no to this and 1000 other wrong turns. You see, at some point it is about not opening new doors. We have gone too far already now is the time to take what we have and make new arrangements. Now is the time to look back at many wonderful things and reuse them. Now is the time for new thinking and living in accordance with a planetary emergency. We have come full circle. This circle started with a learning curve now science is telling us what has been done has created this emergency. More of the same is not acknowledging what science is telling us. This is more than science denial. It is about those who are doing the science denying. This is about denial at the very core of our civilization.

    If we realize what science is telling us and reflect on natural history and human history then we see our trajectory can only go one way. Until we acknowledge failure as a species there can be no wisdom. There is little chance of finding wisdom in a civilization such as ours. This leaves the individual in a multidimensional existential trap. Not only are the pathways of wisdom clogged with denial the pathways for survival are completely dependent on the status quo. Even if you can muster the strength to say this is insane, you still have to make a living through the status quo.

    Globalism and modernism are climax ecosystems that have niches completely filled. There is no room anymore for alternative thinking. Alternative thinking today that is allowed or not allowed is all wrong because it’s underlying bases is the status quo. At some point this climax ecosystem will bifurcate and succession will return as it always does on our planet. The sad truth for humans is not only will we have lost significant human affluence but we have more importantly lost natural affluence.

    Going forth the individual and smaller groups can man lifeboats and embrace a hospice mentality. This will revolve around embracing decline and excepting its inevitability. Forget trying to change things because you can’t. Corruption of the truth is complete. We are completely mechanized in a blind drive of progress. Even our greens are brown. We can find meaning by seeing what is ahead and developing small smart activities. Many of these small smart activities are from our past. We can take what we have that is good and combine it with what we had that was good. Together with a new wisdom we can salvage an existence in a time of destructive change. We can make a difference one life at a time. We can save one tree at a time. This can be done without worrying about the big picture that we accept is lost. We can concentrate on only what is near. Localism and physical human relationships will allow this modernism and digital relationships will not. Leave the status quo in your heart and go forth in the status quo. When in a terminal illness many find meaning by ending the efforts to survive and turn to enjoying what little time they have left. Sanity is found by acceptance.

  8. deadlykillerbeaz on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 7:56 am 

    I suppose some peanuts can be eaten, but you have to pay for them! There is no free lunch!

    It is life in turmoil.


    ko.yaa.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi Language) n. 1. crazy life.
    2. life in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating.
    5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.

  9. deadlykillerbeaz on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 8:19 am 

    Solar is fine, however, a combine needs a 400 horse power diesel engine to drive all of the mechanized apparatus to operate the machine.

    Needs diesel fuel, 300 gallons in the tank.

    Solar ain’t gonna do that. Solar to produce biofuels could work, though.

    Electro-motors are fine, robotics in agriculture, use microtillage powered by electric engines with small tillage implements, all controlled by computers.

    Sow and reap robotically. Robot lawnmowers modified for tillage work.

    I hope it can be done, vertical urban agriculture can be a goal and can be achieved, all done robotically.

    It can and could be revolutionary a saving grace redemption for humanity. The future of agriculture is in robotics.

    Self-driving tractors are here now. Small equipment for agriculture using robotics can be done too.

    Cars have electric steering, you can’t build a self-driving car without electric steering capability.

  10. Davy on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 10:10 am 

    Why have robotics, computers, and vertical agriculture as the blueprint for the future of agriculture? Why not get back to human and animal power applied over time to a declining industrial agricultural system. Animal and human power works and has been proven to work. High tech alternatives have not been proven to work at scale. High tech industrial agriculture is not sustainable and will follow the path of industrial agriculture into decline. It is inevitable as civilization declines so will techno complexity. It is not a long term sustainable method to provide food for humans. It is possible now so it will be done or attempted but the real answer is leap frogging over this delusional thinking back to simplicity, dignified poverty, and localism.

  11. onlooker on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 10:16 am 

    And especially since our main energy source FF are in decline and bad for the environment. As they say collapse now and beat the rush

  12. TommyWantsHisMommy on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 2:53 pm 

    Instead of planting peanuts..wouldn’t it be better to cover the field in solar panels. I would imagine combined with some sort of pumped storage (water) or batteries (?) you could bank some of that energy to use at night/low light periods. I know oil is great for storage…but for most of the year the field just sits without producing anything. Better yet..take your 1000 acres and cover it with a few nuclear reactors… good for 50+ years…just watch out for meltdowns.

  13. Kenz300 on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 7:29 pm 

    Fossil fuels are nearing their end.

    The fossil fuels industry will do all they can to slow the transition away from fossil fuels.

    The Kochs Are Plotting A Multimillion-Dollar Assault On Electric Vehicles

    Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire | Rolling Stone

    How Exxon & The Koch Brothers Have Funded Climate Denial – YouTube

  14. GregT on Thu, 20th Apr 2017 8:39 pm 

    “Fossil fuels are nearing their end.”

    Yup, only about 1.7 Trillion barrels of oil, 335 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 890 Billion tons of coal left to burn.

    The human race will do everything possible to avoid societal and economic collapse by continuing to burn fossil fuels for as long as possible. Right up to, and including, a global mass extinction event.

  15. onlooker on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 8:05 am
    The human cancer continues its assault on its host—7 minutes wow, not even a moment of doubt
    “In a symbolic vote, at the end of the morning (12/4), in seven minutes, parliamentarians approved a report by Deputy José Reinaldo (PSB-MA) of Provisional Measure (MP) 758/2016, which reduces the protection of 510 thousand hectares [1.26 million acres] of protected areas in western Pará.”

  16. onlooker on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 8:06 am 

    western Pará.= Amazon

  17. Cloggie on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 9:59 am 

    Vertical farming taking off.

    Pioneering the concept began in the US but is now taking off on a commercial scale elsewhere: vertical farming. Ingredients: huge warehouse building, no daylight but (pink) LED-lights, and many stories with completely controlled (CO2, humidity, temperature, light) crop growing.

    The big advantage: (horizontal) space saving and the ability to grow crops near the consumer (if necessary in Northern Siberia), saving on transport and cooling energy, increasing the food security of big cities, providing food all year round.

  18. bobinget on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 11:38 am 

    The only vertical farming feeding the world
    can be seen from a window seat @ 30 thousand feet.

  19. bobinget on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 11:53 am 

    California, this summer, will prove if battery storage has a future in grid stabilization.

    All I’m saying, alt.wind, solar, batteries, will be tested this coming summer, slated to be the hottest EVER.

    How bout natural gas? With LNG Exports booming, NG will, instead of adding to storage, could draw for the first time.

    In Japan Leaf owners can hook up for a ‘two way’ grid tie and still be ‘fully charged’ in the morning.

    A hundred thousand EV’s act as a cushion or ‘peakers’.

    That’s the future here too.

  20. Hubert on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 11:56 am 


  21. Boat on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 12:53 pm 


    Did you know that in Calif they have negitive electricity rates during the heat of the day due to the amount of solar installed. Solar, no worries about ac due to heat. Check out the post at the Eia web site.

  22. Boat on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 12:59 pm 


    Doomers just don’t grasp how fast tech is changing farming vegetables due to green house farming. Or like bobs post about wind energy in Texas. Check out fish farming combined with green house growing. Yet another future trend.

  23. bobinget on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 1:03 pm 

    That Communist State, Texas, partly because of location, (southern, long wind ‘fetch’, GOM frontage,
    most of all, residents with energy always on their minds were willing to experiment with alternative energy. Now, today, Texas, with its own pro priority
    grid, generates over 20% of it’s power with solar.

    Average wholesale electricity prices for Texas hit an all-time low last year.

    BTW, Saudi Arabia just put out bids for the largest solar farm in the world. Like Texas, ya can’t sell what ya waste on AC at home.

    (advances in desalination, making solar even cheaper way to go)…. (graphene)

    As for LNG (snake oil) here’s the skinny on natty;

    Australia looking at curtailing LNG exports.

    Mexico takes the gaspipe…

    The US has enough NG to outlast mankind’s stay on this old planet.

  24. Boat on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 1:18 pm 


    Solar is projected to explode in Texas owner the next 5 years. They will eventually be like Calif and peak electricity use during the heat of the day will be solved. Coal fired plants are losing money, they just can’t compete with the new lower prices of renewables.

  25. Hawkcreek on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 4:18 pm 

    A long time ago, farmers used to set aside 20% of their fields for feed crops for their plow horses and mules, enough to last them all year.
    Now some farmers put 20% of their fields in oil crops to run their tractors. If diesel gets too expensive, most farmers will do the same. Nothing has really changed.

  26. Davy on Fri, 21st Apr 2017 5:39 pm 

    Britain Poised to Go Full Day Without Burning Coal for Electricity

    “LONDON — If all goes according to plan, Friday will be the first full day since the height of the Industrial Revolution that Britain will not burn coal to generate electricity, a development that officials and climate change activists were already celebrating as a watershed moment.”

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