(USA)

Making algae biofuels on an industrial scale has moved a step closer thanks to a breakthrough in America.

A collaboration project between Synthetic Genomics (SGI) and ExxonMobil has created a type of algae capable of converting carbon into ‘energy-rich fat’. The pair have increased the fat content to 40% – more than two times the usual amount.

SGI’s senior director and the lead scientist on the algae project, Rob Brown said: “It was a true eureka moment when we knew what we had. After testing and retesting the breakthrough, ensuring it wasn’t just a false positive, a cheer went up in the lab. If you can imagine people doing cartwheels down the hall, that’s what it feels like after years of research to move the needle in such a substantial way.”

The two have been working together since 2009 and this is a landmark moment in their journey. By manipulating an area of the algae genome which is ‘responsible for the assimilation of nitrogen’ they are progressing a type of biofuel which would have far fewer emissions than fossil based fuels.

“We knew that algae had the potential to be more productive than other biofuel sources like corn and soy beans and, unlike those, they don’t require arable land or freshwater,” Alessandro Faldi, ExxonMobil scientist, told Energy Factor.

There is still a long road ahead.

Faldi added: “This step is critical, but it’s important to keep our focus down the line to where we need to go. We will need to increase the algae’s ability to convert the sun’s energy into biomass to further increase fat production and will begin testing and engineering more algae grown under various conditions. There’s still a long journey ahead of us.”