The Department of Energy (link is external) has awarded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) a three-year, $1.5 million grant to improve the growth and efficiency of biofuel-producing algae through the alteration of their microbiomes. The work, which is led at LLNL by Xavier Mayali and Ty Samo in the Physics and Life Sciences Directorate, will be done in collaboration with the San Francisco startup General Automation Lab Technologies (GALT (link is external)).
Mayali, who will be a principal investigator on the project, said: “We are excited to establish a collaboration with a fellow Bay Area science and technology company to use microbiome engineering to improve algal biomass production. LLNL has been funded to do basic research in this area for a long time, and this new effort — with an applied focus — is a direct result of our many years of hard work in the area of elemental cycling in bacterial communities.”
While the Lab team brings expertise in algal growth conditions and the high-level understanding of unique algal microbiome interactions, GALT provides novel technology that will allow the collaboration to dive deeper into understanding how algae grow and function in different microbial conditions. This is essential to being able to increase algal production — which is important for creating alternative fuel out of algae, also known as biofuel.
Rhona Stuart, another algae researcher at the Lab, says in a new video (link is external) from Lawrence Livermore: “The algae as biofuel is carbon neutral. That is, algae feeds on carbon dioxide, so the same amount of carbon that is released from burning it as fuel can be re-absorbed by more algae that’s being cultivated, so you’re never increasing the net CO2 in the atmosphere by using algae as fuel.”
GALT’s instruments and procedures will allow the two teams to “screen tens of thousands of microbiome combinations,” according to Mayali in an interview with BioMass Magazine (link is external). The technology will enable the testing of tens of thousands of unique microbiomes on algal physiology. The project also aims to reduce wasted byproducts of photosynthesis by targeting microbiomes that can more efficiently recycle it back to carbon dioxide for the algae to grow better.
Funded by the Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (link is external) (BETO) within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (link is external) (EERE), this agency supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that make energy more affordable and strengthen the reliability, resilience and security of the U.S. electric grid. BETO contributes to EERE’s mission by working with industry, academia and national laboratory partners on a balanced portfolio of research in algal biofuels technologies.