Sunday, May 04, 2008

Blue-Green Algae to Save the World

New Source for Biofuels Discovered by Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin | The University of Texas at Austin

Two scientists at University of Texas at Austin discovered how to use photosynthetic organisms, known as cyanobacteria, to make ethanol, which is a type of alternative fuel. These organisms get energy from the sun and use the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to convert it into organic components, such as cellulose, glucose and sucrose. These simple sugars are the major sources used to produce ethanol.

  • The new cyanobacteria uses sunlight as an energy source to produce and excrete sugars and cellulose.
  • Glucose, cellulose and sucrose can be continually harvested without harming or destroying the cyanobacteria.
  • Cyanobacteria use carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and can fix nitrogen in the soil.
Brown and Nobles are now researching the best methods to scale up efficient and cost-effective production of cyanobacteria, which may be grown in saltwater in the middle of a desert. The researchers would like to create an energy farm to grow the cyanobacteria on about 5,000 square miles of land in either West Texas, Nevada or Utah, which would sustain the U.S. need for transportation fuel.


Jackie said...

Glad to see they are looking at better alternatives to produce ethanol.

Using cereals for ethanol is already being seen to cause lack of food for millions of poor people who rely on cereals to survive.

Chizmosa said...

I think that is a good news. With the issue nowadays on fuel and gasoline, having an alternative is a good choice.

CyberCelt said...

@jackie-soybeans were used for the first biofuels, corn and switchgrass were proposed by our president.

@chizmosa-Now, if the government would put forth a real effort, this could work.

Nancy Mehegan said...

Forget the government putting in an effort. We always say "I wish THEY would do something about it". One day it dawned on me....who are THEY?? Oil robber barons? It is US. WE must do something.

Thanks for the info on blue-algae. I am posting a link to your site today at, the baby boomers reFirement site.

~ Nancy

Melanie said...

I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your blog. I love the name and think you should buy the domain

I know how to set it up and can walk you through it.
Let me know if this is something you're interested in.. I would NEVER charge, of course.

Keep up the good work!

Robin said...

This is fantastic news! I would love for this technology to take off. My husband has decided we won't buy another vehicle that uses gasoline and while he thinks an electric car will be best I think a biofuel car is probably going to happen first. I'd rather see this type of fuel than a fuel that is created from food. Thanks for the new information!

CyberCelt said...

@nancy-You are right. It looks like people are taking that attitude more often.

melanie-I have the domain Endangered Spaces blog. Endangered Spaces was not available. I appreciate your offer of help. I moved one of my domains from blogspot and lost all pr, links and rank. It was also difficult to get used to Wordpress. As much as I hate Blogger, it is so easy.

@robin-Thank you for visiting and leaving such an enthusiastic comment. I hope to help the environment is some way by spreading the good news (the other good news).

Patrick said...

I'm confident that technology is going to replace gas/oil over the next 2 decades.

This will be economic-driven. Capitalism will favor more efficient alternatives than gas.

The real twist is that this is going to happen faster than most people are expecting. Technology accelerates.

spandex said...

Hope the cyanobacteria really can save our Earth. We should care for the Earth as it is the only planet that support lives creature. No Earth no us.

Biofuel Blogger said...

I firmly believe algae is the way to go. There are many options for making biofuels but algaes are very high yields.

Prof.Hans-Jürgen Franke said...


University of Hawai'i Professor Pengchen "Patrick" Fu developed an innovative technology, to produce high amounts of ethanol with modified cyanobacterias, as a new feedstock for ethanol, without entering in conflict with the food and feed-production .

Fu has developed strains of cyanobacteria — one of the components of pond scum — that feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and produce ethanol as a waste product.

He has done it both in his laboratory under fluorescent light and with sunlight on the roof of his building. Sunlight works better, he said.

It has a lot of appeal and potential. Turning waste into something useful is a good thing. And the blue-green-algae needs only sun and wast- recycled from the sugar-cane-industry, to grow and to produce directly more and more ethanol. With this solution, the sugarcane-based ethanol-industry in Brazil and other tropical regions will get a second way, to produce more biocombustible for the worldmarket.

The technique may need adjusting to increase how much ethanol it yields, but it may be a new technology-challenge in the near future.

The process was patented by Fu and UH in January, but there's still plenty of work to do to bring it to a commercial level. The team of Fu foundet just the start-up LA WAHIE BIOTECH INC. with headquarter in Hawaii and branch-office in Brazil.


Fu figures his team is two to three years from being able to build a full-scale
ethanol plant, and they are looking for investors or industry-partners (jointventure).

He is fine-tuning his research to find different strains of blue-green algae that will produce even more ethanol, and that are more tolerant of high levels of ethanol. The system permits, to "harvest" continuously ethanol – using a membrane-system- and to pump than the blue-green-algae-solution in the Photo-Bio-Reactor again.

Fu started out in chemical engineering, and then began the study of biology. He has studied in China, Australia, Japan and the United States, and came to UH in 2002 after a stint as scientist for a private company in California.

He is working also with NASA on the potential of cyanobacteria in future lunar and Mars colonization, and is also proceeding to take his ethanol technology into the marketplace. A business plan using his system, under the name La Wahie Biotech, won third place — and a $5,000 award — in the Business Plan Competition at UH's Shidler College of Business.
Daniel Dean and Donavan Kealoha, both UH law and business students, are Fu's partners. So they are in the process of turning the business plan into an operating business.

The production of ethanol for fuel is one of the nation's and the world's major initiatives, partly because its production takes as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it dumps into the atmosphere. That's different from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which take stored carbon out of the ground and release it into the atmosphere, for a net increase in greenhouse gas.
Most current and planned ethanol production methods depend on farming, and in the case of corn and sugar, take food crops and divert them into energy.

Fu said crop-based ethanol production is slow and resource-costly. He decided to work with cyanobacteria, some of which convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into their own food and release oxygen as a waste product.

Other scientists also are researching using cyanobacteria to make ethanol, using different strains, but Fu's technique is unique, he said. He inserted genetic material into one type of freshwater cyanobacterium, causing it to produce ethanol as its waste product. It works, and is an amazingly efficient system.

The technology is fairly simple. It involves a photobioreactor, which is a
fancy term for a clear glass or plastic container full of something alive, in which light promotes a biological reaction. Carbon dioxide gas is bubbled through the green mixture of water and cyanobacteria. The liquid is then passed through a specialized membrane that removes the
ethanol, allowing the water, nutrients and cyanobacteria to return to the

Solar energy drives the conversion of the carbon dioxide into ethanol. The partner of Prof. Fu in Brazil in the branch-office of La Wahie Biotech Inc. in Aracaju - Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke - is developing a low-cost photo-bio-reactor-system. Prof. Franke want´s soon creat a pilot-project with Prof. Fu in Brazil.

The benefit over other techniques of producing ethanol is that this is simple and quick—taking days rather than the months required to grow crops that can be converted to ethanol.

La Wahie Biotech Inc. believes it can be done for significantly less than the cost of gasoline and also less than the cost of ethanol produced through conventional methods.

Also, this system is not a net producer of carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide released into the environment when ethanol is burned has been withdrawn from the environment during ethanol production. To get the carbon dioxide it needs, the system could even pull the gas out of the emissions of power plants or other carbon dioxide producers. That would prevent carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, where it has been implicated as a
major cause of global warming.
Honolulo – Hawaii/USA and Aracaju – Sergipe/Brasil - 15/09/2008

Prof. Pengcheng Fu – E-Mail:
Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke – E-Mail:

Tel.: 00-55-79-3243-2209


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