Making the Algae Burp Oil

Algae oil production discovery worth mentioning.

Researchers at Montana State University working on algal biofuels production techniques discovered that adding baking soda to the production process dramatically increased the production of the precursors essential to get the algae to secrete oil.

And it was not just a little boost in productivity either—the algae doubled the amount of oil produced in one-half the time.

This Algal Biofuels Group is part of MSU’s Energy Research Institute, which includes 35 faculty working across many disciplines in sponsored energy research.  So while ExxonMobil spends $600 million on algae research these guys in Montana sprinkle a little baking soda at various stages of the algae oil production cycle and like any good scientist sit back drink their coffee and see what happens.

What happened was apparently amazing, and now they are trying to figure out why the finicky little algae like the baking soda at one stage and not at another.  Professor Keith Cooksey, professor emeritus in microbiology at MSU said “baking soda may work because it gives algae extra carbon dioxide necessary for its metabolism at a key point in its life cycle. If the baking soda is added too early or too late, the algae don’t respond. But when added at just the right time in the growth cycle, algae produce two to three times the oil in half the time of conventional growth models. The oil, or lipid, is composed of triacylglycerides, the key precursors to biodiesel and biojet fuel.”

The best part of this story is that these guys at MSU turn about $15 million in sponsored research grants each year into commercially viable applications which are licensed to business.

I love these stories of hard work, persistence and dedication paying off.  Congratulations to the MSU algae oil geek squad.