Saturday, August 7, 2010


Frenetic pace at which energy scientists are pursuing alternate sources of energy, to meet the the contingency arising out of the eventual drying of fossil fuel wells in not distant a future, seems to have taken them to areas not chartered hitherto. It is likely that modern biotechnological tools may yet convert the unheralded single cell organism Algae into a real hero in the coming years. Algae belonging to different varieties are known to be excellent converters of solar energy into different biological constituents such as proteins, colorants, fat, micro nutrients etc and to day it is better known as a health supplement, attributing to it many virtues including longevity. The latest romance with Algae by the fuel scientists is opening up new opportunities as a fuel source capable of replacing fossil fuels that can be used for meeting the modern transportation needs.

"Foreign genes are being spliced into algae and native genes are being tweaked. Different strains of algae are pitted against one another in survival-of-the-fittest contests in an effort to accelerate the evolution of fast-growing, hardy strains. The goal is nothing less than to create superalgae, highly efficient at converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into lipids and oils that can be sent to a refinery and made into diesel or jet fuel. "We've probably engineered over 4,000 strains," said Mike Mendez, a co-founder and vice president for technology at Sapphire Energy, the owner of the laboratory. "My whole goal here at Sapphire is to domesticate algae, to make it a crop." Dozens of companies, as well as many academic laboratories, are pursuing the same goal — to produce algae as a source of, literally, green energy. And many of them are using genetic engineering or other biological techniques, like chemically induced mutations, to improve how algae functions."

It has been known for some time that Algal cells can be manipulated at the gene level to yield hydrocarbons just like the petroleum hydrocarbons but the viability of the bio-conversion route was not established because of low yields. The above studies have been able to show the potential of some Algal variants to be a significant source of hydrocarbons and the findings, though at a laboratory level, are pregnant with far reaching significance to the energy starved humanity. Of course there are many hurdles in realizing the potential and in stead of working in isolation research organizations must pool their resources and experience for evolving a universally acceptable alternate source to fossil fuels and such an achievement will spare precious food resources like grains, sugar beets and sugarcane for meeting the food needs of human beings.


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