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Study Determines Theoretical Energy Benefits and Potential Algae Fuels

December 10, 2012: Microalgae have been widely reported as a promising renewable source of biofuels, mainly based on reports of high productivity of biomass and lipids. The definition of “lipids”, is surprisingly vague, defined as biochemical compounds not soluble in water but soluble in organic solvents. While high lipid productivities are often reported for algal cultures, there is a wide variety of analytical methodologies associated with these reported values, leading to variable and often inaccurate yield predictions.  It is clear from the variance in algal lipid contents appearing in publications and the associated analytical methodologies that there is a need for robust standardized methods to determine lipid content or biofuel-potential in microalgal biomass.

The University of Texas Science and Technology Facility (UT-STF), located adjacent to the Center for Electromechanics (UT-CEM) in Austin TX, recognizes that not all lipids are appropriate for use as biofuels; some algal lipids are high-value products that can be marketed as nutraceuticals, such as omega fatty acids and antioxidant carotenoids. The analysis tools developed by UT-STF have a distinct advantage over conventional tools that are convenient, but highly variable, because lipids and carbohydrates are separated into distinct classes rather then measured in total. This type of analysis allows growers to make changes to culture conditions to drive the production of desired products within the algae. These products can include lipids like hydrocarbons and fatty acyls that can be used as biofuels, carotenoids and omega fatty acids that can be marketed as nutraceuticals, and specific carbohydrates that can be used as food additives, cosmo- and nutraceuticals. The facility offers detailed analyses to academic institutions, start-ups, large-scale producers, and anyone interested in growing algae for high-value products on a fee-per-analysis basis.

UT-STF also offers monthly workshops to educate those interested in learning to conduct these analyses at their site. In addition, the workshop instructs participants on current processing technologies, including UT’s mobile processing unit. In collaboration with engineers at the Center for Electromechanics, the facility offers expertise to develop cost-efficient biomass processing solutions for specific fuel or high-value products

For more information please contact:
Dr. Rhykka Connelly
r.connelly@cem.utexas.edu
512-232-1633

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