Microalgae for the biochemical conversion of CO2 and production of biodiesel

  • Holly Smith-Baedorf

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


As the global population rises to an estimated 9.4bn by 2050, the pressure for food, fuel and freshwater will continue to increase. Current renewable energy technologies are not widely applicable to the transport sector, which requires energy dense liquid fuels that drop into our existing infrastructure.Algal biofuels promise significantly higher yields than plants, without the displacement of valuable agricultural resources and have the potential to meet the global demand for transport fuel. Fossil fuel energy is largely ‘a legacy of algal photosynthesis’, with algae accounting for ~50% of global CO2 fixation today. In addition, these curious organisms show remarkable diversity in form, behaviour and composition. Recently there has been a global resurgence of interest in microalgae as a resource of biomass and novel products.With the present level of technology, knowledge and experience in commercial scale aquaculture, the capital cost and energy investment for algal biomass production is high. Culturing, harvesting and disrupting microalgal cells account for the largest energy inputs with more positive energy balances requiring low energy designs for culture, dewatering and extraction, efficient water and nutrient recycling with minimal waste.Little is known about the variable cell wall of microalgae, which presents a formidable barrier to the extraction of microalgal products. Staining, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and enzymatic digestion were all utilised in an attempt to visualise, digest and characterise the cell wall of stock strains of Chlorella spp. and Pseudochoricystis ellipsoidea. The presence of algaenan, a highly resistant biopolymer, rendered staining and enzymatic digestion techniques ineffective. TEM revealed that algaenan is present in the outer walls of microalgae in a variety of conformations which appeared to impart strength to cells. A preliminary investigation utilising Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. elaeidis as a novel source of enzymes for the digestion of algaenan has also been described.Methods were developed for the mutagenesis of Chlorella emersonii and P. ellipsoidea using EMS and UV with the intent of generating cell-wall mutants. Although no viable cell wall mutants were produced, a viable pale mutant of C. emersonii was recovered5from UV mutagenesis. Growth rates of the pale mutant were significantly slower than the wild type, yet FAME profile was largely unaffected. Fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) was also investigated as a means for the rapid screening of mutagenized cells for cell wall mutants.In an attempt to reduce cooling costs of closed-culture systems, temperature tolerant species of microalgae were sought by bioprospecting the thermal waters of the Roman Baths. Numerous methods for isolation and purification of microalgae from the Baths were employed, ultimately yielding seven diverse isolates including cyanobacterial, eukaryotic, filamentous and single celled species. Despite some species possessing an increased tolerance to higher temperatures, none showed marked temperature tolerance coupled with high productivity. Further improvements to the culture conditions may have improved the productivity at higher temperatures. All seven isolates were deposited to the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP).A variety of extraction methods including soxhlet, beadbeating, sonication and microwaving was investigated for efficacy of extracting fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) from C. emersonii. Beadbeating proved most effective in the extraction of FAMEs from C. emersonii. Microwaving showed potential as a rapid method of extraction yet was coupled with degradation of FAMEs, requiring further method development to resolve this issue. Method development has been a significant component of the work described in this thesis.
Date of Award30 Sept 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRoderick Scott (Supervisor) & Matthew Davidson (Supervisor)


  • algae
  • micro algae
  • biofuel
  • biodiesel
  • thermo tolerant
  • co2
  • bioprospecting
  • cell wall

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