Micro-algae for the production of biofuels and bioproducts

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 2:00pm
Fung Auditorium | Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall
Stephen Mayfield, PhD

Director, San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology
Professor, Molecular Biology
UC San Diego

Micro-algae for the production of biofuels and bioproducts

Abstract: 
Fuel, food, and biological products are all different forms of chemical energy, and as such are closely interrelated. All of these products are ultimately derived from photosynthesis, the process by which sunlight energy is converted to chemical energy. Over the last 100 years we have exploited fossil fuels to drive unprecedented economic and agricultural growth, but in so doing we have released sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere, which is now beginning to impact our climate. In addition, fossil fuel reserves are finite, and we are now starting to see the initial signs of depletion of these reserves, including the rising cost of fuels and food. Together these factors have provided the impetus behind the development of new renewable energy sources that can supplant fossil fuels while greatly reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Eukaryotic algae offer tremendous potential for the large scale production of biofuels and bio-products as algae require only sunlight as an energy source and sequester CO2 during the production of biomass, and algae can be much more efficient then terrestrial plants in fixing CO2 and producing biomass. Using “designed for purpose” photosynthetic organisms we have the opportunity to develop production platforms for fuel, food, and bioproducts that have unmatched efficiencies and productivities. We are developing the genetic and synthetic biology tools to enable the production of designer algae as a bio-fuels and bio-products platform. The challenges we face for our energy future, as well as some early successes in developing algae as a biotechnology platform will be discussed.