Algae are capable of producing high-density biomass with high lipid content (>50 % per cell weight) under ideal conditions. These lipids can easily be converted into biofuels like biodiesel with established technologies. Particularly microalgae have potential to become a viable source of biofuels in the future. However there are specific challenges to overcome before this becomes a scalable technology. A significant amount of R&D is needed to achieve large-scale harvest and processing of the algal biomass for biofuel. Besides engineering challenges, there is a need to optimize algal cultivation and better understand the biology and metabolic processes involved in algal growth.
We are currently growing selected microalgal species on waste sugars (e.g. from corn stover) and waste water (from the local Missouri River Treatment Plant) to minimize input costs and create a closed loop nutrient cycle. Our goal is to establish an optimal cultivation method, based on these waste nutrients, that generates high amounts of biomass with enhanced lipid yield. As part of this we are investigating the biochemical pathways involved in lipid production in selected algal species using a molecular biology toolset.