Doctoral student sees potential for zero-emission fuel from algae

Turku University molecular plant biology PhD student Hannu Leino argues that some kinds of blue-green algae – common in Finnish waterways duiring the warm summer months – are efficient producers of hydrogen, a property that suggests the otherwise annoying growth can be harnessed to produce energy using different biotechnology applications.

Cyanobacteria or blue-green algae are capable of using the energy stored in light to produce hydrogen, via the process known as photosynthesis. Some forms of cyanobacteria are naturally proficient at hydrogen production.

Leino points out that this ability to produce hydrogen can also be enhanced by artificially by genetic manipulation. Hydrogen in turn is a zero-emission fuel that can be used to power electrical devices and vehicles.

Leino studied the ability of nearly 400 different kinds of algae to produce hydrogen using light. He found that one common form of blue-green algae often found on seaside cliffs – the Calothrix family – proved to be a promising producer of hydrogen. Calothrix 336/3 also had the ability to attach itself to different surfaces to grow there.

“By exploiting this trait and using immobilisation technology and regulating its nutrition I was able to further enhance the population’s capacity for hydrogen production. Hydrogen production together with the production of bioactive substances, carbon dioxide recovery and waste water purification all formed a profitable production system, although not quite on a commercial level,” Leino said.

Leino will defend his thesis at Turku University on December 19.


Photo: Image: Yle

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