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Nanosphere-based Catalysis – Best Option for Harvesting Microalgae

July 29th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Is harvesting oil from the same algae multiple times by causing minimal damage to the cell th best option? Yes, say a few researchers in the Ames Laboratory.

From the Ames laboratory – The key to their process lies with millions of sponge-like nanospheres that were specially engineered by Ames Lab Program Director for Chemical & Biological Sciences, Victor Lin and his colleagues

As the process of algae cultivation poses several challenges, a few research efforts are underway to decrease the challenges faced during cultivation. In short, their main idea is to harvest oil continuously from algae without killing it! The Ames Lab spheres do their work thanks to a proprietary collection of chemicals, which are embedded on each sphere’s surface and within its nanoscale tunnels.

The Ames Lab team was able to design the spheres so they only cause minimal damage to the organism while gaining access to the algal lipids. In other conventional oil-extraction processes, the algal extract typically contains a mixture of chemicals. But only a few chemicals in the algal extract are suitable to be converted to fuels.

Current methods for separating the fuel-relevant chemicals from algae. At the same time, these nanospheres can be refurbished so they – like the algae – may be used again. This unique selectivity enables the use of nanospheres for selective sequestration of algal chemicals for fuel production.

The process begins when the spheres co mingle with the algae inside a pond or tank, where they are chemically drawn to come in contact with individual algal cells. The Ames Lab team was able to design the spheres so they only cause minimal damage to the organism while gaining access to the algal lipids. Chemicals embedded inside the sphere’s tunnels begin to draw oil from the cell. Minute quantities of the oil are then stored inside the tunnels of each sphere.

The nanospheres are  thus capable of selectively adsorbing the fuel-relevant compounds from existing varieties of algae. However, this approach would limit where the farming could take place. Algae require sunlight and warmth in order to thrive.

This approach has potential drawbacks as well. Algae plants may mutate rapidly, meaning fresh batches of algae genetically optimized for oil production would need to be continually introduced.

For those of the scientific bent , the full article can be obtained by clicking on the following link:


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