Technology  July 26, 2013

CSU: Photosynthesis may help make biofuels

FORT COLLINS – A team of Colorado State University researchers has been awarded a $2 million grant by the National Science Foundation to study new routes to the sustainable production of biofuels using photosynthetic bacteria.

“The purpose of this basic research is to help solve important practical problems,” said Kenneth Reardon, professor of chemical and biological engineering and site director for the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, in a press statement.

“Current biofuel production processes, based on algae, have been too expensive to scale up to commercial size,” he said. “The team will be researching ways to increase the productivity and sustainability of the cultivation of photosynthetic microbes for greater yields of targeted molecules.”

Reardon said the project will launch Aug. 1 with the first disbursement of grant funds.

“It’s great recognition of the research capability we have at Colorado State University,” Reardon said.

Other members of the team include faculty members David Dandy and Christie Peebles from the chemical and biological engineering department, Graham Peers from the biology department and Thomas Bradley from the mechanical engineering department.

The research at CSU will revolve around cyanobacteria, a type of blue-green bacteria. It will be modified to convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons through photosynthesis. The grant awarded to CSU addresses biorefineries, one of three research areas being focused on by the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program through the NSF.

Five areas of the biofuel production process will be studied during the four-year research project. CSU researchers will explore how to engineer cyanobacteria that can grow faster in a wide range of conditions and how light exposure in different settings affects bacteria’s growth and yield rates.

Researchers also will develop computer models to predict light exposure in specific cultivation systems, develop methods to harvest cyanobacteria from the culture efficiently, and develop life-cycle analysis approaches to accurately model the productivity of large-scale reactors.

Small-scale models of different photobioreactor strategies will be built in CSU labs to model large-scale production reactors and study how cyanobacteria respond to photobioreactor conditions. A photobioreactor incorporates a light source to provide energy input into the reactor.

The CSU team expects engineered strains of cyanobacteria and approaches developed during this project to aid research efforts in the production of biofuels and biochemicals.

In addition to training Ph.D and undergraduate students during the research, the team will mentor elementary- and secondary-school students in such topics as metabolic engineering and photosynthetic microorganisms.

FORT COLLINS – A team of Colorado State University researchers has been awarded a $2 million grant by the National Science Foundation to study new routes to the sustainable production of biofuels using photosynthetic bacteria.

“The purpose of this basic research is to help solve important practical problems,” said Kenneth Reardon, professor of chemical and biological engineering and site director for the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, in a press statement.

“Current biofuel production processes, based on algae, have been too expensive to scale up to commercial size,” he said. “The team will be researching ways to increase the productivity and…

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