Team to engineer algae for more productive biofuel potential

Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, holds great promise for biofuel production because the free fatty acids they secrete are more easily recovered than those typically produced by green algae.

Such fatty acids, or lipids, are readily converted into fuels. With a new $1.5 million Department of Energy grant, a three-institution team led by Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jamey Young will work to identify how cyanobacteria can be engineered to do what they do more efficiently and in larger quantities.

“Lipid-based products that can be converted to biodiesel or other value-added biochemicals represent one of the most promising platforms for petrochemicals replacement,” Young said.

Cyanobacteria are already capable of producing lipids directly from sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide using photosynthesis, but not at the rates and quantities necessary to sustain a commercial biofuel process.

The goal of this new project is to understand how lipid metabolism is regulated in cyanobacteria so host cells can be engineered for high-yield production of medium-chain free fatty acids, which are readily converted into fuels.