Researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife are using artificial intelligence to set a new world record for algae making algae a reliable, economical source of biofuel that may be used as an alternative fuel source for jet aircraft and other transportation applications.
In January, findings from the teams were published in Nature Communications. Ongoing research is funded by the Department of Energy Fossil Energy Office in the United States, but the work is also being funded by a gift from Dr. John 90 and Sally 92 Hood, who recently met with Yuan to discuss his biofuels research program. The gift is managed by the Texas A&M Foundation.
Bin Long, a graduate student from the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, is on the faculty of Bart Fischer, the co-director of the Texas A&M Agricultural and Food Policy Center, the Texas A&M Department of Agricultural Economics, Henry Bryant, Ph.D., and Yining Zeng, the staff scientist at the United States Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Solving the algae limitations as a biofuel
The relatively low yield and high harvesting costs have hampered the commercialization of algal biofuel, according to Yuan. Both the limited light penetration and the limited cultivation dynamics both contributed to the low yield.
Undertaking these challenges might enable viable algal biofuels to reduce carbon emissions, reduce climate change, reduce petroleum dependence, and transform the bioeconomy, according to Yuan.
Yuan has previously found solutions to convert corn stubble, grasses, and mesquite into biodegradable, lightweight materials and bioplastics. His latest project uses a patented artificial intelligence advanced learning model to predict algae light penetration, growth, and optimal density. The prediction model allows for continuous harvest of synthetic algae to maintain the optimal density to ensure best light availability.
The biomass productivity goal achieved by Yuan and his team in an outdoor experiment was 43.3 grams per square meter per day, which would be a world record. The latest DOE target range is 25 grams per square meter per day.
Algae is a good alternative fuel source for this industry. It is a lower price than coal or natural gas, providing a more effective way of carbon capture and utilization.
algae, according to Yuan, can be used as a feed source. AgriLife Research previously investigated algae as a source of livestock protein.
Algae as a renewable energy
Biofuel from Algae is considered as one of the finest renewable energy solutions, but its commercialization is hampered by mutual shading and high harvest expenses.
By increasing machine learning to facilitate the design of a semi-continuous algae cultivation (SAC), we can overcome these problems and minimize mutual shading, according to the authors.
Yuan said he is using a aggregation-based sedimentation strategy to achieve low-cost biomass harvesting and low-cost SAC.
The aggregation-based sedimentation is accomplished by preparing a rapidly-growing blue-green algae strain, Synechococcus elongatus UTEX2973, to produce limonene, which enhances cyanobacterial cell surface hydrophobicity and facilitates effective cell aggregation and sedimentation, according to the author.
Making algae economical energy
Using a SAC with an outdoor pond system, a biomass yield of 43.3 grams per square meter per day is achieved, raising the minimum biomass selling price to $281 per ton. In contrast, the Yuans process is currently $6 per bushel or $260 per ton. However, the Yuans process does not require costly pre-treatment. Corn must be ground and the mash must be cooked before fermentation.
Fischer said Algae was a hot topic a decade ago. However, I was even skeptical. However, the work that Joshua is doing is incredible. We were thrilled to partner on this project. Given the low-cost harvest that the strain allows it, it shows a lot of promise.
Despite significant potential and massive efforts, Yuan said, the commercialization of algal biofuel has been hampered by limited sunlight penetration, poor cultivation dynamics, relatively low yields, and the absence of efficient industrial harvest methods.
According to the author, this technology is proving to be affordable and can help propel algae as a truly alternative form of energy.