Microalgae are tremendously diverse. They have expanded to occupy every terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environment capable of supporting photoautotrophic metabolism. With characteristics that include high efficiencies, rapid growth, and the production of significant amounts of lipids (fat stores), make them an ideal candidate ideal for biofuel production and feedstocks. However, all previous attempts to date have not been able to exploit the potential of algae for biotechnological purposes. In order to produce an economically viable and scalable algal biofuel, we need to develop new biofuel production strains.
Despite the huge microalgal biodiversity available, which is estimated to number over a million species [1,3], screening for industrial bioenergy carbon capture (BECC) strains has been limited in scale. Largely confined to screens of pre-existing academic culture collections which number less than 30,000 strains [4,5,6,7,8]. This has meant that pretty much all performance testing in large-scale biofuel production programmes has been limited to just four strains, (Chlorella, Desmodesmus, Monoraphidium, Scenedesmus, and Nannochloropsis strains). Unfortunately, these strains respond poorly to abiotic and biotic stresses which are the driving force for fat storage activation.
So, it’s no real surprise that results from these previous algal biofuel programmes have not only exhibited very low biomass production and lipid content [9, 10] but suffered from population failures and deemed too costly to scale.
Therefore, the development of new biofuel production strains is essential for success
Developing New Biofuel Super Strains
The microalgal cell is the most important component of the algal bio-oil production system. Its photosynthetic and metabolic capabilities define the operational limits of biomass and triacylglyceride synthesis which controls bio-oil productivity. So, it makes perfect sense that if we are to address these fundamental limitations, we need to identify new biofuel production strains that exhibit higher real-world triacylglyceride productivity.
Strains that can operate efficiently under the multiple abiotic stresses experienced during industrial scale culture. At HutanBio, the expansion of our in-house strain library has been a key factor in why our results have been so successful.
Our bioprospecting programme generated an industrial strain library of over 400 physiologically robust, high biomass, fast-growing marine microalgae that thrive under high light, temperature, and salinity abiotic stressors as well as exhibit resistance to biotic stressors. It is not only the largest and best-characterised tropical marine industrial microalgae strain library available but includes strains that provide productivity with high abiotic and biotic stress tolerance.
The Future of Biofuel Production
The challenge to commercial algal-derived biofuel was never about how to automate and scale. Or how to minimise resource demands and figure out a viable cost structure. The problem was always poor biology.
By starting with a superorganism and taking biology to an advanced stage, the rest is simply an engineering challenge. It becomes an opportunity to develop a biofuel that is not only sustainable, and non-destructive but has no reliance on fresh water. Through the development of new biofuel production strains, we can begin to support hard-to-abate transport sectors where electrification is not viable.
Helping decouple transoceanic shipping, long-haul aviation, and heavy transport from fossil fuels.