‘Milking’ Algae to Provide Biofuels

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have proposed that diatoms, a type of algae, could be used as a biofuel. Diatoms contain oil droplets within their cells and the researchers estimate that one hectare of diatom cultivation could produce 100 – 200 times the oil produced by equivalent soybean cultivation.

Diatoms secrete silica outwith their cell walls. The scientists propose that the algae could be genetically modified to do the same with diatom oil, which could then be harvested. The algae could be suspended within a nutrient-rich solution, within a solar panel. The diatoms would then secrete the oil when exposed to sunlight. Prof. T.V. Ramachandra, a member of the research team, has been quoted as saying that it may be possible to “milk diatoms for oil just as we milk cows”.

Experts have greeted the proposal with enthusiasm but warn that it is too early to say if it is feasible or the costs prohibitive.

Source: SciDev.net
Original Article: Scientific American