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20 April 2010

Work Aims To Re-Engineer Algae For Biodiesel Production

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A Purdue University researcher will lead a portion of a federally funded effort based at Iowa State University aimed at creating genetically engineered algae for environmentally friendly biodiesel production

Currently, hydrocarbon fuels such as diesel and gasoline require complex chemical processing to be manufactured and are made primarily from non-renewable fossil fuels, which are being depleted, whereas the single-cell algae use photosynthesis and are renewable resources, said John Morgan, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Purdue.

The Purdue portion of the work focuses on creating algae that produce more lipids, the precursor of biofuels. The algae harness solar energy to make lipids from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"Algae now store some of their carbon as lipids, but not enough to be useful in producing biodiesel," Morgan said. "We need to genetically engineer them to increase the amount of lipids they accumulate."

The three-year project is funded with a grant of more than $4 million from U.S. Department of Energy and is led by Martin Spalding, a professor in the Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology at Iowa State. About $1 million of the grant, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is funding Purdue's portion of the research, which began earlier this year.


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