16-Year-Old Develops a New Way to Turn Algae into Fuel

“While other 16-year-olds were watching TV and hanging out with their friends, St. Petersburg, Florida-native Evie Sobczak was hard at work in her garage developing a device that turns algae into fuel. Sobczak told the Tampa Bay Times that she spent about an hour each day tinkering in her garage on the project. After about four years, her hard work paid off, as Sobczak figured out a way to harvest and extract algae oils — without using any chemicals — and turn them into biofuel. And the technique is 20 percent more efficient than existing technologies. Sobczak’s algae-to-biofuel invention recently won first place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix.”

Candles in microgravity

Think about how hot air rises while cooler, denser air sinks.  This all happens due to gravity here on earth, but what would happen without this force of nature?  If the air isn’t rising or sinking around the flame, then how does the air mix to supply fresh oxygen to the candle to keep it burning?  

UC San Diego student, Sam Avery is trying to understand this by taking his team aboard NASA’s Zero-G airplane.  The flight follows a parabolic path and causes a dozen or so 30 second bursts of zero gravity.  During this time Avery can ignite a flame in a special chamber to observe the effects of microgravity.

He led a team last year doing a similar experiment.  During that time the flame was still able to burn, but at a much lower rate.  It was able to get new oxygen to burn by a process known as molecular diffusion.  So, why does it matter? By doing these tests, scientists can better understand a flame’s burn rate and possibly lead to developing more efficient biofuel engines.  

Read more about it here 

16-year-old Egyptian Muslim discovers catalyst to turn Egypt’s plastic waste into biofuel 

Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad is not your average 16-year-old. While most teens were delivering pizza or working on their tans this summer, Faiad was discovering a way to turn Egypt’s plastic waste into roughly $78 million worth of biofuels each year.

The idea to use plastic as biofuels is not new, but Faiad, a student at the Zahran Language School in Alexandria, Egypt, has found an inexpensive catalyst that could make the process not only economically feasible, but economically profitable for her country. Egypt’s plastic consumption is estimated to total 1 million tons per year, so Faiad’s proposal could completely transform the country’s economy, while also handling their plastic waste issues.

Faiad says that her catalyst, called aluminosilicate, could inexpensively break down plastic waste while producing gaseous products like methane, propane and ethane, which can then be converted into ethanol. She calculates that her discovery could inexpensively generate about 40,000 tons of cracked naphtha and 138,000 tons of hydrocarbon gases per year — equivalent to $78 million.

The green teen has already won an award for her findings at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists, and she is currently looking into patenting her idea through the Egyptian Patent Office.

Source: The Green Prophet



Algae Converted To Crude Oil In One Hour

An innovative process that starts with an algae slurry efficiently produces crude oil in less than an hour, researchers say.  

The biocrude oil can then be refined conventionally into gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory engineers say their method is a continuous process that beats previous attempts to harness algae as fuel.

They say their work has led to a cheaper and less energy intensive technique. It also results in a wastewater stream from which flammable gas can be recovered and nutrients that can grow more algae.

“Cost is the big roadblock for algae-based fuel,” said lead researcher Douglas Elliott in a statement. “We believe that the process we’ve created will help make algae biofuels much more economical.”

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Source: txchnologist

Unique proteins found in heat-loving organisms attach to plant matter

Unique proteins newly discovered in heat-loving bacteria are more than capable of attaching themselves to plant cellulose, possibly paving the way for more efficient methods of converting plant matter into biofuels.

The unusual proteins, called tapirins (derived from the Maori verb ‘to join’), bind tightly to cellulose, a key structural component of plant cell walls, enabling these bacteria to break down cellulose. The conversion of cellulose to liquid biofuels, such as ethanol, is paramount to the use of renewable feedstocks.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from North Carolina State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory report the structure and function of tapirins produced by bacteria that live in hot springs across the globe, including Yellowstone National Park. These bacteria, called Caldicellulosiruptor, live in temperatures as high as 70 to 80 degrees Celsius - or 158 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

“These hot springs scavengers make proteins that are structurally unique and that are seen nowhere else in nature,” said Dr. Robert Kelly, Alcoa Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State and the paper’s corresponding author. “These proteins bind very firmly to cellulose. As a result, this binding can anchor bacteria to the cellulose in plant biomass, thus facilitating the conversion to fermentable sugars and then biofuels.”

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Beer Waste Will Power Alaskan Brewery

The Alaskan Brewing Co. is going green, but instead of looking to solar and wind energy, it has turned to a very familiar source: beer.

The Juneau-based beer maker has installed a unique boiler system in order to cut its fuel costs. It purchased a $1.8 million furnace that burns the company’s spent grain — the waste accumulated from the brewing process — into steam which powers the majority of the brewery’s operations. Company officials now joke they are now serving “beer-powered beer.”

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Biofuel by Suzanne Hood

Suzanne Hood’s Biofuel is an exhibit that combines science with the imagination. Hood currently lives in Montreal and works as a medical writer, and this influence is clear throughout her works. As she describes the visuals throughout the series:

“I like the combination of old medical illustrations and paper that has an aged appearance, like old maps. I think it’s something to do with the idea that each conveys a kind of instructive, authoritative feel, yet each represents information that’s still unfamiliar and constantly changing.”

Biofuel will be on at the Montreal Art Center until October 5th. 

- Lee Jones

E. coli is capable of producing a diesel substitute

 Strains of E. coli bacteria are capable of producing a biofuel almost identical to diesel.

The importance of the discovery hinges around the idea of “drop-in” fuels – that existing technology which runs on diesel would not need to be modified in order to utilize the biofuel meaning the costs to business of switching energy sources would be minimal.

“Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset,” said Professor John Love from the University of Exeter’s Biosciences department.

“Replacing conventional diesel with a carbon neutral biofuel in commercial volumes would be a tremendous step towards meeting our target of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Global demand for energy is rising and a fuel that is independent of both global oil price fluctuations and political instability is an increasingly attractive prospect.”

The E. coli uses a natural oil production process to convert sugars into fats which are then used in the bacteria’s cell membrane. By genetically altering the E. coli the researchers were able to convert the sugars to the imitation fossil fuel (perhaps faux-sil fuel?) instead.

Unfortunately the process only yields tiny amounts of biodiesel at present meaning that before we can switch energy sources bioscientists will need to find a way to refine the process and produce industrial quantities of fuel.

The team at the University of Exeter received support for their project from multinational oil company, Shell. According to Rob Lee from Shell projects & technology: “While the technology still faces several hurdles to commercialisation, by exploring this new method of creating biofuel, along with other intelligent technologies, we hope they could help us to meet the challenges of limiting the rise in carbon dioxide emissions while responding to the growing global requirement for transport fuel.”


Artificial leaves to fuel the future

Researchers are looking to synthetic biology to create an artificial ‘leaf’ capable of converting the sun’s energy into liquid fuel.

Plants take in solar energy, concentrate it, and use it to split apart water into hydrogen and oxygen. In doing so, oxygen is released and hydrogen is locked into a fuel.

“We’re trying to take energy from the sun and trap it so that it can be used when it’s needed most. We’re working to devise a system that can recreate photosynthesis artificially, on a grand scale to create fuel rather than electricity.” - Professor Richard Cogdell, University of Glasgow

The artificial system could also improve natural photosynthesis to make better use of the sun’s energy for our own needs.

The research could kill two birds with one stone – creating tech which utilises carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to create a sustainable fuel.

Read more ways synthetic biology could change your life forever at:

Image credit: Kristina Alexanderson 

Cannibalistic Algae! 

Until now, it has been believed that only certain types of bacteria, worms and fungi could utilise vegetable cellulose as a viable source of carbon. However, it has since been discovered that the alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii can not only receive energy via photosynthesis but also by extracting it from other plants. This discovery was led by Dr. Olaf Kruse at Bielefeld University and was published in the prestigious journal Nature. 

The research team cultivated the alga species in a low carbon dioxide environment, hence limiting the opportunity for photosynthesis to occur. They observed that when carbon dioxide was limited, the single celled plants derived their energy requirements from neighbouring vegetable cellulose. Chlamydomonas reinhardtii does this by releasing an enzyme which breaks down the cellulose back into its smaller constituents; sugars. This is then transformed into available energy for the organism. 

This newly found ability comes with a great potential for future bioenergy production. Essentially, the algae could bypass the need to use fungus or other organisms to breakdown vegetable cellulose. Eventually, phototrophic microbes like Chlamydomonas may serve as biocatalysts for cellulosic biofuel production.

Exciting times! 


For the journal paper see here:

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One plant yields 3 clues to biofuel crops

The analysis of gene activity by researchers at Iowa State University and determination of protein structures by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences independently identified three related proteins that appear to be involved in fatty-acid metabolism. The researchers used thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) as the model plant.

The research groups then joined forces to test this hypothesis, demonstrating a role of these proteins in regulating the amounts and types of fatty acids accumulated in plants.

The researchers also showed that the action of the proteins is very sensitive to temperature and that this feature may play an important role in how plants mitigate temperature stress using fatty acids.

The discovery is published online in the journal Nature.

“This work has major implications for modulating the fatty-acid profiles in plants, which is terribly important, not only to sustainable food production and nutrition but now also to biorenewable chemicals and fuels,” says corresponding author Joseph Noel, a professor and director of the Jack H. Skirball Center for Chemical Biology and Proteomics at the Salk Institute and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

In this photo: The blue areas in this thale cress plant indicate where the fatty-acid-binding protein one gene is expressed and also correspond to regions where high fatty acids would be synthesized by the plant. (Credit: Eve Syrkin Wurtele and Micheline Ngaki)

Read more here.