Cusat scientists isolate algae capable of producing biofuel

[India] The highly polluted backwaters of Cochin estuary could be a rich source of biofuel, as a research team of Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat) has managed to isolate a micro-algae capable of producing biodiesel. The algae, Prymnesium parvum, which has high content of phosphates and nitrates, is found in the backwaters, off Mattanchery harbour.

The Prymnesium parvum yields fuel with optimum properties. “Almost 26% of it is lipids, which can be exploited commercially and can also be grown in mass production systems without contamination from other organisms,” said researcher Sanyo Sabu working on the project under Dr Valsamma Joseph, faculty of national centre for aquatic health.

The algae, which is golden yellow in colour when in full bloom, flourish in waters where there is a high eutrophication content.

The climate change and the inevitable fuel shortages drive the global efforts to advance renewable energy alternatives. Biofuel systems can offer the best renewable solution for the global liquid fuel requirement. Microalgae have re-emerged as a popular feedstock for the production of biofuels. However, the vast diversity of marine microalgae remain to be explored to the fullest for potential biofuel applications

Sanyo said that the oil from Prymnesium parvum had properties within the ASTM D6751-02 standards for biodiesel. “As of now, about 15-20% of a biofuel is the bio-content and the rest is petrol or diesel. Now I am working on isolating the genes which are responsible for this oil content in the species.”

“The main challenge is collecting and bringing the algae without dying, as they die when moved out of their environment,” said Sanyo.


Photo: The Prymnesium parvum yields fuel with optimum properties.

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