Teen girls generate bio-fuels from Algae for National Science Contest - and win

These Virginia girls are Team STEM Ninjas and they just won the US Army Sponsored eCYBERMISSION competition 7th grade level. They are Divya Mereddy, Rachana Subbanna and Sneha Thandra and they wanted to reduce the US’s reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil. The girls had the idea to generate bio-fuels from algae and wanted it used in a car without changing the vehicle’s infrastructure,”. They attended workshops and courses on algae and eventually designed and built a Biodegradable Floating Photobioreactor (FLO-PAC) to generate the oil from algae and used transesterification to separate out the oil. The judges, U.S. Army scientists and engineers were very impressed with the teams research, focus and the benefits to the community that this would bring.

Sources: US Army Connection  eCYBERMISSION


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 

Algae Converted To Crude Oil In One Hour

by Michael Keller

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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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.”

Continue Reading.

Food, fuel and more will be produced in sea farms of future

Meet the farm of the future, where common seaweed is being upgraded from an environmental problem to a valuable natural resource and raw material.

“The fact is that algae can absorb nitrogen from the water as effectively as a wastewater treatment plant,” says Gröndahl, a KTH Royal Institute of Technology researcher and head of the Seafarm project, which converts algae into eco-friendly food, medicine, plastic and energy.

The excessive fertilisation (eutrophication) of our seas results in an over-production of algae, commonly known as seaweed. Bathing beaches become unusable on account of algae blooms and entire ecosystems can be threatened.

“But, in our research, we turn the argument on its head and see algae as a resource. We collect excess algae along the coasts and cultivate new algae out at sea,” Gröndahl says.

Already, seaweed is getting scooped up from the Baltic Sea, along Sweden’s southern coast, in order to be converted to biogas. The coast is rich with the seaweed. The city of Trelleborg estimates that its beaches host an excess of algae that is equivalent to the energy from 2.8 million litres of diesel fuel.

Read more…

Related: Using seaweed in the garden
#compost #science #fertiliser

Boeing 787 set for first biofuel-powered flight tonight – Engadget

Biofuel in planes is hardly a new idea, but when Boeing’s latest and greatest aircraft gets in on the green game, we take notice. That’s right, a ANA 787 Dreamliner is currently preparing to take off from Everett, Washington this evening and will make its way across the Pacific to Tokyo powered by biofuel. Well played, Boeing, we’re all for celebrating Earth Day a little early, and it’s always good to see someone giving Sir Richard Branson a run for his money.

[Photo credit: Boeing, Flickr]



Jet Fuel.

All three of these transportation fuels have now been created by engineered E. coli bacteria that feed on switchgrass, a renewable source of biomass. By inserting genes into the bacteria that can digest the cellulose in the plant matter, and through even more metabolic engineering, shift that carbon into high-energy fuel hydrocarbons. Read the open-access research article here at PNAS.

Our biofuels can’t compete with our food sources (looking at you, corn ethanol), and these advanced methods are the next generation sources we’ve been looking for. There’s a few catches in this study, like whether the pre-treatment methods and all that are scalable, but YAY BIOFUELS!

(via Berkeley Lab News Center, image of E. coli via Wikimedia)

How to pretend a potential green energy solution “doesn’t exist” in two steps:

  • Report that cellulosic ethanol, fuel made from agricultural waste like corn stalks, “doesn’t exist" 
  • Ignore the opening of the first plant to bring it to a commercial scale

The truth: cellulosic ethanol has 95 percent less impact on climate change than the fuel it will replace. The plant’s opening is "a major step in the shift from the fossil fuel age to a biofuels revolution.”

Read More

Are Electricity-Eating Bacteria The Next Big Thing In Alternative Energy?

by Michael Keller

There’s a large and growing list of renewable energy projects pumping out cleaner electricity these days. Photovoltaic panels produce direct current and solar concentrators drive steam turbines using sunlight. Wind turbines churning out megawatts of power dot the landscape of many countries. Other projects are looking to light communities through tides, running rivers and even the heat of the Earth.

Creating current is all well and good for energizing homes, businesses and even motor vehicles, but when it comes to flying airplanes or turning the screws on big ships, batteries storing alternative-energy-produced electricity just can’t yet deliver the power needed. That’s why these large machines still need combustible liquids like diesel, aviation fuel and bunker oil that pack a bunch of energy into small volumes to drive their engines.

For these and other high-power applications, renewable energy needs to up its oomph. The best way to do that would be to concentrate sunlight’s energy, for instance, into a machine that converts it directly into fuel. For well over a century, we’ve been using a version of this that comes out of the ground in the form of petroleum products, which are the hydrocarbon-rich remnants of organic matter that lived eons ago. The ancient organisms that form our fossil fuels are the concentrated distillates of sunlight.

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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.”

From pest-resistant corn to creepy glowing fish, genetically engineered organisms are creeping into our lives. But most of today’s GMOs vary marginally from the original animal or plant—there is an addition or deletion of a couple genes, which is like adding or scrubbing a line from Hamlet and calling it a new play. But a team of geneticists led by Jef Boeke at Johns Hopkins University is dreaming much, much bigger. 

The team is genetically engineering an entire organism—a yeast—from scratch, as part of the Synthetic Yeast 2.0 project. They have designed and written a code made up of roughly 11 million letters of DNA—the As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that write the book of life—which they are synthesizing and subbing in for a yeast’s natural DNA. To integrate their new chromosome, the researchers used the organism’s natural affinity for uptaking segments of DNA, slowly introducing chunks of it into a living yeast in an 11-part process. And as they reported today in the journal Science, their project is progressing splendidly. They have just finished their first phase, building and integrating an entire chromosome. 

Scientists Create Synthetic Chromosome (And Open the Door to the Future of Beer)

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 

Breakthrough on synthetic renewable propane to help fuel the next generation of biofuels

This study provides new insight and understanding of the development of next-generation biofuels.  In this latest study, published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels,scientists at the University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB), working with colleagues at Imperial College London and University of Turku, have created a synthetic pathway for biosynthesis of the gas propane. Their work brings scientists one  step closer to the commercial production of renewable propane, a vital development as fossil fuels continue to dwindle.


Ref: A microbial platform for renewable propane synthesis based on a fermentative butanol pathway. Biotechnology for Biofuels 2015, 8:61 | DOI:10.1186/s13068-015-0231-1

"Paradigm Shift" Reported In Making Biofuel From Plants

by Michael Keller

The possibility of using nonfood plants to cheaply and sustainably fuel our vehicles may have just veered into the fast lane.

Scientists report they have successfully genetically engineered bacteria to convert complex carbohydrates in tough grasses directly into ethanol, a type of alcohol that can fuel internal combustion engines.

“Making biofuel from plants is really important because it’s carbon neutral—the same CO2 you put in to grow it comes out when you burn it,” says Janet Westpheling, a University of Georgia genetics professor who led the research. “It’s one of the reasons why the future of energy in this country has to rely at least in part on plants.”

At the heart of the work conducted at UGA and Oak Ridge National Lab, is what Westpheling calls a paradigm shift in approaching a longstanding problem in producing biofuels.

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Your Car Could Run On Gasoline Made From Bacteria in the Future

Imagine if instead of digging oil up out of the ground and refining it into gasoline, we could just have bacteria make it for us in a big vat somewhere. Researchers from South Korea have done just that – engineered bacteria to make gasoline – but many challenges remain before large scale production becomes viable.

Learn more from Dr. Barry Starr of The Tech Museum of Innovation at KQED Science.

Chemical process turns any plant matter—even trees—into biofuels
Nearly any plant material can be broken down into simple sugars.
Biofuel production focuses on taking the carbon that’s already present in plants and converting it into burnable carbon-based fuels. Most of the carbon in a plant comes in the form of sugars, which can be readily converted into ethanol and less readily modified into other fuels. Sugar is relatively easy to obtain from things like fruit and seeds, but those are also the sorts of things we like to eat. Most of the sugar in the rest of a plant, however, is locked into a complex polymer called cellulose. Figuring out a way to easily break down cellulose has been one of the major hurdles to the expansion of biofuels. Now, researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison have figured out a chemical treatment that, given a bit of time, can completely dissolve any plant matter including wood. The end result is a solution containing mostly sugars, along with a few other organic molecules—some of which can be shunted off to synthesize the key ingredient of the chemical treatment itself. The key ingredient in the chemical treatment is gamma-valerolactone, a ring-shaped molecule that incorporates an oxygen in its ring. On its own, this seems to be able to loosen up the cellulose and make it more accessible for chemical reactions. But it doesn’t break it down into the individual sugars it’s composed of. To do that, the researchers had to add some dilute sulfuric acid along with a bit of water (20 percent of the final solution) to keep everything in solution. (via Chemical process turns any plant matter—even trees—into biofuels | Ars Technica)