“Giant bowls of sugar water generally don’t last long in nature. We can understand where we can prevent bacterial overload, and stop the sugars from being consumed by things we don’t want to grow,”
A biochemical company that uses the earth’s resources to create biofuel has gained sole rights to develop a particular stain of an algae-like organism after securing a patent for its use. Through the application of a process that combines air, seawater and sunlight, HelioBioSys Inc. produces a range of fermentable sugars that are particularly suitable for the production of biofuel, owing to its high sugar content.
HelioBioSys Inc. is working in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia), a wholly owned science and technology subsidiary of Honeywell International, to explore the feasibility of successfully farming the three single-celled, algae-like cyanobacteria on a large scale. HelioBioSys uses a mixed population of carefully selected non-genetically modified marine cyanobacteria that obtain their energy from the sun, and carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere and which can be up to seven-times more effective than algae for the production of biofuel.
Known as cyanobacteria, it has in the past been mistaken for algae, but unlike algae cyanobacteria releases large quantities of sugar direct into the water. The variety that has been developed can, according to Sandia biochemist Ryan Davis, produce four to seven grams of sugar per litre of biomass; a typical algae operation might grow one gram of biomass per litre.
A clear advantage of using this variety of organism for fuels is that it doesn’t compete with food and crops for land, water or other resources; the water used to grow algae isn’t usually suitable for use in agriculture. “Giant bowls of sugar water generally don’t last long in nature. We can understand where we can prevent bacterial overload, and stop the sugars from being consumed by things we don’t want to grow,” said Davis.
“We’re trying to deconstruct the magic sauce in this cyanobacteria consortium and learn what conditions are optimal for large-scale growth.”
Further strengthening cyanobacteria’s suitability for biofuels, the process of filtering sugar from the water that the organism excretes into is relatively simplistic when compared to extracting lipids from large quantities of algae mass. It’s also much cheaper to process, owing to the fact it doesn’t require additional fertiliser as is the case for algae mass, a factor that could give one day give it the potential to compete with petroleum.
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