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Algae Biofuel Breakthrough

November 25, 2013

Scientists have overcome a major challenge in the commercial production of biofuel.



Fuel from the sea. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A scanning electron microscope image of the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana, a type of marine algae. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

Drivers of the future may fill their gas tanks with clean-burning fuel derived from marine algae. Scientists have overcome a major hurdle that hampered large-scale commercial production of the fuel. Scripps Institution of Oceanography marine biologist Mark Hildebrand says when algae are growing well, they produce carbohydrates instead of the lipids, or oils, used as biofuels.

MARK HILDEBRAND (Scripps Institution of Oceanography):

And it’s only when they stop growing that they have excess carbon to deal with, and then they start to make the lipids, and so it’s just as a human if you were to eat a big meal and sit on the couch afterwards, you would start to accumulate lipids, if you went outside and exercised, you’d be burning carbohydrates, so it’s actually directly analogous to that.


He and his team altered gene expression in the algae so they burn up less of the lipids they’ve already accumulated while still maintaining growth. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.