Friday, August 07, 2009

Scientists use algae to develop photo-bioreactors and novel cell decomposition methods

Washington, August 7 (ANI): Using energy production from microalgae, a team of scientists is developing closed photo-bioreactors and novel cell disruption methods.

Microalgae are monocellular, plant-like organisms engaged in photosynthesis and converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into biomass.

From this biomass, both potential resources and active substances as well as fuels like biodiesel may be produced.

While growing, algae take up the amount of CO2 that is later released again when they are used for energy production.

Hence, energy from algae can be produced in a CO2-neutral manner contrary to conventional energy carriers.

“Compared to land plants, algae produce five times as much biomass per hectare and contain 30 to 40 percent oil usable for energy production,” said Professor Clemens Posten, who directs this research activity at the KIT Institute of Life Science Engineering.

As the algae may also be cultivated in arid, that is, dry areas not suited for agriculture, there is hardly any competition with agricultural areas. There, however, closed systems are required.

Presently, algae are being produced in open ponds in southern countries of relatively small productivity. This is where Posten’s new technology starts.

“In terms of process technology, our approach is completely different, as we are working with closed photobioreactors,” said Posten. “Our plants convert solar energy into biomass, the efficiency being five times higher than that in open ponds,” he added.

The plates in usual photo-bioreactors are arranged vertically.

“Every alga sees a little bit less light, but the plant is operated at increased efficiency,” emphasized Posten.

So far, Dr. Georg Muller, head of this institute’s Pulsed Power Technology Division, has studied the decomposition of plant cells of olives, grapes, apples, sugar beets, and terrestrial energy plants in cooperation with partners from research and industry.

“It is our objective to develop new economically efficient and sustainable extraction methods to obtain a maximum amount of cell constituents from the algae that can be used for energy production,” said Muller.

“The plant cells are exposed to a high electric field for a very short term. This causes a perforation of the cell membrane and the constituents are released,” he added. (ANI)

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