Friday, January 20, 2012

Brown Seaweed to Biofuels and Chemicals......Breakthrough?

The key benefits of BAL technology are:
Single Platform. BAL converts seaweed carbohydrates into one renewable chemical intermediate that is affordable and scalable for both fuels and chemicals.

Commercial Focus. Leveraging the single platform, BAL will first commercialize high-value products to generate early cash flow that simultaneously paves the path for larger market opportunities.

First Mover Advantage. With over 60 patents or patents pending, BAL has carved a broad IP estate for the use of seaweed as a biomass for chemicals and fuels.

BAL has developed a diverse product portfolio that provides large market opportunities at varying price points. Products include road transport fuels, green plastics, surfactants, agrochemicals, synthetic fibers and nutraceuticals. _BioArchitectureLab
What did the researchers at Bio Architecture Lab actually achieve?
Prospecting macroalgae (seaweeds) as feedstocks for bioconversion into biofuels and commodity chemical compounds is limited primarily by the availability of tractable microorganisms that can metabolize alginate polysaccharides. Here, we present the discovery of a 36–kilo–base pair DNA fragment from Vibrio splendidus encoding enzymes for alginate transport and metabolism. The genomic integration of this ensemble, together with an engineered system for extracellular alginate depolymerization, generated a microbial platform that can simultaneously degrade, uptake, and metabolize alginate. When further engineered for ethanol synthesis, this platform enables bioethanol production directly from macroalgae via a consolidated process, achieving a titer of 4.7% volume/volume and a yield of 0.281 weight ethanol/weight dry macroalgae (equivalent to ~80% of the maximum theoretical yield from the sugar composition in macroalgae). _Science Abstract
They increased the fermentation yield of ethanol from brown algae by genetic tweaking of their microbial fermentation platform.
Seaweed can be an ideal global feedstock for the commercial production of biofuels and renewable chemicals because in addition to its high sugar content it has no lignin, and it does not require arable land or freshwater to grow. Globally, if three percent of the coastal waters were used to produce seaweed than more than 60 billion gallons of fossil fuel could be produced. Today, in many parts of the world, seaweed is already grown at commercial scale. BAL currently operates four seaweed farms in Chile and has had great success in growing seaweed at economically viable production yields.

...“BAL's technology to ferment a seaweed feedstock to renewable fuels and chemicals has created an entirely new pathway for biofuels development, one that is no longer constrained to terrestrial sources,” says ARPA-E Program Director Dr. Jonathan Burbaum. “When fully developed and deployed, large scale seaweed cultivation combined with BAL’s technology promises to produce
renewable fuels and chemicals without forcing a tradeoff with conventional food crops such as corn or sugarcane.” _BAL (PDF)
It is far easier to grow large quantities of macro-algae in the sea, than microalgae. Macro-algae is much tougher and holds together in large masses for easier harvesting. Up to 4 crops a year can be grown, at very rapid biomass rates.

It should be clear that by adding roughly 70% of the earth's surface area to one's potential crop growing area, the limits to biomass growth have been expanded considerably.

H/T NextBigFuture

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