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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2008-06-26 11:30:00
  • Article ID: 542130

Algae from the Ocean May Offer a Sustainable Energy Source of the Future

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Research by two Kansas State University scientists could help with the large-scale cultivation and manufacturing of oil-rich algae in oceans for biofuel.

K-State's Zhijian "Z.J." Pei, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, and Wenqiao "Wayne" Yuan, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering, have received a $98,560 Small Grant for Exploratory Research from the National Science Foundation to study solid carriers for manufacturing algae biofuels in the ocean.

Algae are a diverse and simple group of organisms that live in or near water. Certain algal species are high in oil content that could be converted into such fuels as biodiesel, according to Pei and Yuan. Algae also have several environmentally-friendly advantages over corn or other plants used for biofuels, including not needing soil or fresh water to grow.

Pei and Yuan plan to identify attributes of algae and properties of materials that enable growth of certain algae species on solid carriers. Solid carriers float on the water surface for algae to attach to and grow on.

"Not all materials are equally suitable to make these carriers," Yuan said. "Some materials are better for algal attachment and growth than others, and we will be identifying what those 'good' materials are."

The project could help with the design of major equipment for manufacturing algae biofuels from the ocean, including solid carriers, in-the-ocean algae harvesting equipment and oil extraction machines, Pei said.

"This research aims to develop a cost-effective process for growing algae on solid carriers in the ocean for biofuel manufacturing," he said. "If successful, it will greatly benefit the energy security of the United States, as well as society in general."

The research will be conducted with a two-step approach.

"Selected algae species will be grown on solid carriers in a simulated ocean environment and will be evaluated for their ability to attach to solid carriers and grow in seawater, their biomass productivity, and their oil content," Pei said. "Top-ranked species in step one will be selected to test the performance of several carrier materials, including natural organic, synthetic organic and inorganic materials, with the same evaluation parameters as in step one."

Pei said the properties of the highly-ranked carriers also will be analyzed.

Yuan, who has studied biodiesel for several years, said the major problem with making the fuel has been finding sustainable oil and fat sources.

"Algae seems to be the only promising sustainable oil source for biodiesel production," he said. "In my lab, we have several different projects involving algae and we have been trying different ways to grow it. We have already obtained some encouraging results."

Pei said the project also will have an educational benefit, with K-State College of Engineering graduate and undergraduate students to be involved in the multidisciplinary research.

Pei, a K-State faculty member since 2000, has expertise in new process development, process modeling of silicon wafering, and traditional and nontraditional machining processes. Pei earned his bachelor's from the Zhengzhou Institute of Technology and his master's from the Beijing Institute of Technology, both in China. His doctorate is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Yuan, who joined K-State in 2006, has research interests in biofuels and biomaterials, diesel engine combustion and performance, and algae photobioreactor and bioprocessing systems. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from China Agricultural University, and his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Zhijian "Z.J." Pei, 785-532-3436, zpei@k-state.edu;

and Wenqiao "Wayne" Yuan, 785-532-2754, wyuan@k-state.edu

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Ames Lab Scientists' Surprising Discovery: Making Ferromagnets Stronger by Adding Non-Magnetic Element

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory discovered that they could functionalize magnetic materials through a thoroughly unlikely method, by adding amounts of the virtually non-magnetic element scandium to a gadolinium-germanium alloy. It was so unlikely they called it a "counterintuitive experimental finding" in their published work on the research.

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How a Single Chemical Bond Balances Cells Between Life and Death

With SLAC's X-ray laser and synchrotron, scientists measured exactly how much energy goes into keeping a crucial chemical bond from triggering a cell's death spiral.

New Efficient, Low-Temperature Catalyst for Converting Water and CO to Hydrogen Gas and CO2

Scientists have developed a new low-temperature catalyst for producing high-purity hydrogen gas while simultaneously using up carbon monoxide (CO). The discovery could improve the performance of fuel cells that run on hydrogen fuel but can be poisoned by CO.

Study Sheds Light on How Bacterial Organelles Assemble

Scientists at Berkeley Lab and Michigan State University are providing the clearest view yet of an intact bacterial microcompartment, revealing at atomic-level resolution the structure and assembly of the organelle's protein shell. This work can help provide important information for research in bioenergy, pathogenesis, and biotechnology.

A Single Electron's Tiny Leap Sets Off 'Molecular Sunscreen' Response

In experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists were able to see the first step of a process that protects a DNA building block called thymine from sun damage: When it's hit with ultraviolet light, a single electron jumps into a slightly higher orbit around the nucleus of a single oxygen atom.

Researchers Find New Mechanism for Genome Regulation

The same mechanisms that separate mixtures of oil and water may also help the organization of an unusual part of our DNA called heterochromatin, according to a new study by Berkeley Lab researchers. They found that liquid-liquid phase separation helps heterochromatin organize large parts of the genome into specific regions of the nucleus. The work addresses a long-standing question about how DNA functions are organized in space and time, including how genes are silenced or expressed.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

SLAC Experiment is First to Decipher Atomic Structure of an Intact Virus with an X-ray Laser

An international team of scientists has for the first time used an X-ray free-electron laser to unravel the structure of an intact virus particle on the atomic level. The method dramatically reduces the amount of virus material required, while also allowing the investigations to be carried out several times faster than before. This opens up entirely new research opportunities.


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Chicago Quantum Exchange to Create Technologically Transformative Ecosystem

The University of Chicago is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Cynthia Jenks Named Director of Argonne's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division

Argonne has named Cynthia Jenks the next director of the laboratory's Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. Jenks currently serves as the assistant director for scientific planning and the director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Division at Ames Laboratory.

Argonne-Developed Technology for Producing Graphene Wins TechConnect National Innovation Award

A method that significantly cuts the time and cost needed to grow graphene has won a 2017 TechConnect National Innovation Award. This is the second year in a row that a team at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials has received this award.

Honeywell UOP and Argonne Seek Research Collaborations in Catalysis Under Technologist in Residence Program

Researchers at Argonne are collaborating with Honeywell UOP scientists to explore innovative energy and chemicals production.

Follow the Fantastic Voyage of the ICARUS Neutrino Detector

The ICARUS neutrino detector, born at Gran Sasso National Lab in Italy and refurbished at CERN, will make its way across the sea to Fermilab this summer. Follow along using an interactive map online.

JSA Awards Graduate Fellowships for Research at Jefferson Lab

Jefferson Sciences Associates announced today the award of eight JSA/Jefferson Lab graduate fellowships. The doctoral students will use the fellowships to support their advanced studies at their universities and conduct research at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) - a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear physics laboratory managed and operated by JSA, a joint venture between SURA and PAE Applied Technologies.

Muon Magnet's Moment Has Arrived

On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the Muon g-2 experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab's accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists' picture of the universe and how it works.

Seven Small Businesses to Collaborate with Argonne to Solve Technical Challenges

Seven small businesses have been selected to collaborate with researchers at Argonne to address technical challenges as part of DOE's Small Business Vouchers Program.

JSA Names Charles Perdrisat and Charles Sinclair as Co-Recipients of its 2017 Outstanding Nuclear Physicist Prize

Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, announced today that Charles Perdrisat and Charles Sinclair are the recipients of the 2017 Outstanding Nuclear Physicist Prize. The 2017 JSA Outstanding Nuclear Physicist Award is jointly awarded to Charles Perdrisat for his pioneering implementation of the polarization transfer technique to determine proton elastic form factors, and to Charles Sinclair for his crucial development of polarized electron beam technology, which made such measurements, and many others, possible.


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Oxygen: The Jekyll and Hyde of Biofuels

Scientists are devising ways to protect plants, biofuels and, ultimately, the atmosphere itself from damage caused by an element that sustains life on earth.

The Rise of Giant Viruses

Research reveals that giant viruses acquire genes piecemeal from others, with implications for bioenergy production and environmental cleanup.

Grasses: The Secrets Behind Their Success

Researchers find a grass gene affecting how plants manage water and carbon dioxide that could be useful to growing biofuel crops on marginal land.

New Perspectives Into Arctic Cloud Phases

Teamwork provides insight into complicated cloud processes that are important to potential environmental changes in the Arctic.

Mountaintop Plants and Soils to Become Out of Sync

Plants and soil microbes may be altered by climate warming at different rates and in different ways, meaning vital nutrient patterns could be misaligned.

If a Tree Falls in the Amazon

For the first time, scientists pinpointed how often storms topple trees, helping to predict how changes in Amazonia affect the world.

Turning Waste into Fuels, Microbial Style

A newly discovered metabolic process linking different bacteria in a community could enhance bioenergy production.

Department of Energy Awards Six Research Contracts Totaling $258 Million to Accelerate U.S. Supercomputing Technology

Today U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced that six leading U.S. technology companies will receive funding from the Department of Energy's Exascale Computing Project (ECP) as part of its new PathForward program, accelerating the research necessary to deploy the nation's first exascale supercomputers.

Electrifying Magnetism

Researchers create materials with controllable electrical and magnetic properties, even at room temperature.

One Step Closer to Practical Fast Charging Batteries

Novel electrode materials have designed pathways for electrons and ions during the charge/discharge cycle.


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