Improving microalgae for biofuel production

  • Dimitrios Kaloudis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Microalgae are a diverse group of oxygenic photosynthetic microorganisms which show great promise as a source of biofuel. However, significant challenges still remain before microalgae can be considered a viable source of biofuel. The main current challenges are nutrient sourcing and recycling as well as downstream processing. The algal cell wall and especially the presence of an algaenan cell wall in some Chlorophyte algae could be an important variable in determining downstream processing costs but not much comparative research has been done to elucidate this. The first part of the present study focuses on the recently isolated alga Pseudochoricystis ellipsoidea (Trebouxiophyceae) and its improvement and assessment for biofuel production. Random mutagenesis and FACS screening protocols were developed for the isolation of pigment and cell wall mutants but despite considerable efforts no suitable mutants could be identified in the first half of this project. Two 500 L raceway ponds as well as an algal growth room and bubble column bioreactors were set up to facilitate algal research at the University of Bath and assess the performance of P. ellipsoidea in realistic culture conditions. P. ellipsoidea showed a maximum growth of 1.53 divisions day-1 in semi-open raceway ponds, resistance to contamination and a 30% lipid content, making it particularly suitable for raceway pond cultures. In the second part of this project six species of Chlorophyte (“green”) algae, three of which produced algaenan, were compared for suitability to growth in anaerobic digestate and municipal wastewater as well as cell wall strength, permeability and suitability to hydrothermal liquefaction. We found that anaerobic digestate was a good medium for the growth of all species independently of autoclaving and that non-autoclaved wastewater was a very challenging medium. Algaenan production did not affect cell disruption by ultrasonication but growth stage and cell wall thickness did. Lipid extraction kinetics by chloroform/methanol were greatly affected by algaenan, meaning that this material is relatively impermeable to organic solvents. Cell wall thickness, cell volume and lipid content also had an effect on lipid extraction kinetics but this was only measurable after 180 minutes of extraction.8Hydrothermal liquefaction showed high solid and low oil yields, very low sulphur (≤0.1 %) as well as a 1.1 % -1.8 % nitrogen content which is significantly lower than most algal HTL studies to date. This suggests that stationary stage algae are more difficult to process but give a cleaner biocrude and reduce the loss of nitrogen through incorporation in the oil. Significant opportunities for optimisation still exist in the HTL process.
Date of Award17 Jun 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsDenso Corporation
SupervisorRoderick Scott (Supervisor) & Matthew Davidson (Supervisor)


  • algae
  • Biofuels
  • cell wall
  • algaenan
  • Pseudochoricystis
  • Wastewater
  • bioremediation
  • open ponds
  • cell disruption
  • Permeability
  • biomass processing
  • suitability assessment
  • mutagenesis
  • FACS
  • screening
  • flocculation
  • lipid extraction
  • Hydrothermal liquefaction
  • HTL
  • Anaerobic digestate

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