The Lindbergh Foundation Believes that Innovative Science and Technology Hold the Key to Addressing Humanity’s Environmental and Productivity Challenges

Stepanie Mixson

Stephanie Mixson

“Conserving Energy and Freshwater by Harnessing Novel Saltwater Algae as a Biofuel Source”

Category: General Conservation

Two of the most important natural resources supporting modern civilization are oil and freshwater.  Worldwide, there are already freshwater shortages and no substitutes for most freshwater uses including growing agricultural crops, manufacturing goods, and safeguarding human health. Furthermore, freshwater is being used to make fuel.  Petroleum-based fuels are also being rapidly depleted, so scientists are turning to renewable biofuels.  However, most attention has been on freshwater microalgae, which would further drain freshwater resources.

Ms. Mixson’s research will focus on a novel candidate for biofuel production­ the saltwater microalga Dunaliella spp.  Using the innovative technique of synchrotron-based microspectroscopy, Ms. Mixson hopes to be able to rapidly screen samples of several strains of four species of this saltwater alga to determine how much lipid production is possible.  The goal is to optimize Dunaliella spp. for production of lipids as a ’drop-in‘ renewable replacement for oil. As an added benefit, these marine microalgae can be mass-cultured in minimal space with readily available saltwater, and existing petroleum refineries that are located along coastal areas can be used.  This pilot study will serve as the foundation for further studies to genetically modify Dunaliella spp. strains to produce even higher amounts of lipids, creating a renewable source of biofuel that can help reduce net carbon emissions and be a viable alternative to the rising costs of petroleum-based fuel with minimal freshwater demand.

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