Research at IISc: An abundant energy source - Oil from Diatoms

Sharath Ahuja, a Technical Officer at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), talks about the cutting edge research being carried out at IISc.

Sharath Ahuja, IISCSharath Ahuja, IISC
In a path breaking and well researched
review article that was published in the international journal - Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research (2009) Scientists from the Energy & Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES),  Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, led by Dr.T.V.Ramachandra*, in collaboration with Dr. Richard Gordon, Department of Radiology, University of Manitoba, Canada, had proposed that DIATOMS, which are single cell algae with silica shells,  could provide us with an unlimited source of energy, in fact, precious OIL.Further research, currently being independently carried by Dr. T V Ramachandra, Sajina K and Supriya Guruprasad, at CES, IISc is focusing on Microalgae, which are the most sought after sources for biofuel production due to their capacity to utilize carbon and synthesize it into high density liquid. Ramachandra says “Current energy crisis have put microalgae under scanner for economical production of biodiesel. Biofuel through algae could be a future source of sustainable gasoline. Algae provide natural material in the form of a lipid rich feed stock and scope for manipulation for production of biofuel.  However, understanding of lipid content and metabolism to enable the manipulation of the process physiologically and genetically is still in infant stage, hence the need for detailed scientific investigations”.

Scanning Electron Micrographs of Native algal strains isolated from a tropical freshwater lake Scanning Electron Micrographs of Native algal strains isolated from a tropical freshwater lake
In an on-going research programme on bio-fuels, in Ramachandra’s laboratory current detailed scientific investigations have yielded very promising results. A study was conducted by the IISc Scientists using a microalgal consortium for a period of 15 days to evaluate the feasibility of algal biomass from laboratory as well as outdoor culture conditions, which could be used as biofuel. Native algal strains were isolated from a tropical freshwater lake for this study.

In a soon to be published scientific paper, the Scientists will
be reporting the various experimental parameters they have investigated, including among others, water quality physico-chemical analysis, culturing of microalgae, and most importantly lipid profile analysis using sophisticated analytical instruments. Ramachandra says, “This study established the proof-of-concept for production of biodiesel from a consortium of algae from both indoor as well as outdoor culture conditions and he adds that, further studies on the application of the mixed population are required to make this consortium approach economic viability for producing algae biofuels.

Biodiesel produced from the mass cultivation of microalgae potentially offers a high attractive and ecologically friendly biodiesel but after almost half a century of research the full promise of microalgae as a feed stock for biofuel production has remained largely unfulfilled. IISc Scientists are hopeful that their current scientific investigations will lead to a better understanding of the various parameters involved in quest for biofuel production.
Sharath Ahuja, joined IISc in 1980 and is a Technical Officer at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. He con-currently holds the position as Coordinator, Archives and Publications Cell at IISc.  He is a free lance writer on Science and Technology related subjects and an amateur photographer.

*Dr.T.V.Ramachandra is also Associate Faculty at the Centre for Sustainable Technology (CST) and the Centre for Infrastructure, Sustainable Transportation and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) at IISc.

Tags: research at iisc, centre for ecological sciences, oil from diatoms, algae, biodiesel, biofuel production, microalgae, iisc scientists, algae biofuels


fatalgae Jan 06th, 2011 02:17 AM

Major University Admits Hard Science Problems Relating to Algae Have Been Solved
Arizona State University Senior Vice President Rick Shangraw recenty said "…algae will “deliver soon” because…most of the hard science problems science problems regarding algae have been solved…Now…it’s largely an engineering problem."
The National Algae Association’s Engineering Consortium has resolved the engineering problems in its development of plans and specifications for a 100-acre build-out turnkey algae production system and its financial team has developed CAPEX and OPEX financial models showing positive cash flow. 

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