Biofuels are a promising alternative for gasoline powered transportation that historically comes from petroleum. Biofuel research at the NMC includes developing photosynthetic carbon reduction pathways in green algae and plants, research on synthetic carbon fixation pathways to meet domestic energy demands and sustainable production, improving photosynthetic efficiency and carbon concentrating efficiency in biofuel feedstocks, and investigating strategies for containment of organisms that affect the health/yield of the algae essential for biofuel production. The NMC believes biofuels research is important to help safeguard energy security by reducing the world’s reliance on fossil energy sources.


Plant Biology - New Mexico Consortium

Generating Phototropin and Neochrome Mutants in Algal Production Strains

Shawn Starkenburg, LANL

In this LANL project, biofuels derived from algae have the potential to reach cost competitive prices with petroleum-based fuels within the next decade if algal biomass growth rates can be increased significantly.  Toward this goal, we are attempting to modify the functionality of two algal photoreceptors (phototropin and neochrome) to improve growth responses in rapidly changing light conditions (i.e. outdoor environments) and expanding the spectrum of wavelengths that could enhance photosynthetic capabilities to increase biomass accumulation rates two-fold. We propose to study and improve the biomass accumulation rates of two production strains:  Scenedesmus obliquus and Picochlorum strain DOE101.  These organisms were selected for both their high production value in terms of their biomass accumulation rates as well as the availability of genetic transformation methods for genetic modification.


Biomass Separation, Biopolymer Concentraion and Salt Removal from a Marine Cyanobacterial Culture

Jim Coons, Los Alamos National Laboratory

This research investigates ultrasonic separation and other dewatering technologies to reduce the energy/cost of biomass dewatering for cyanobacteria cultures. Cyanobacteria at the large end of the size spectrum will be investigated.

Biomedical Engineering - New Mexico Consortium

Algal Translational Genomics: Deciphering the Breadth and Depth of Carbon Metabolism

Shawn Starkenburg, LANL,
Joseph Msanne, NMC

Industrial-scale production of algal biomass using wastewater that is rich with organic matter would provide a cost-effective means to maximize productivity and improve biofuel yield yet the genetic basis for this physiological activity is larger unknown. The growing availability of genome sequences, including a novel production strain Scenedesmus, enable us to translate this genomic information into functional knowledge of the physiological characteristics of these strains.  Nevertheless, efforts to translate genomic data into fundamental understanding of carbon metabolism, and production of biomass and biomaterials is still lagging, delaying improvements in cultivation practices.  This project will begin this work by focusing on determining the primary routes of organic and inorganic carbon assimilation through a comparative genomic analysis of the Genera Scenedesmus, resulting in an improved and curated in silico reconstruction of carbon utilization.  These in silico models will be curated and validated through phenotyping experiments to determine which carbon sources are metabolized (and under what conditions) promote the most efficient use of carbon to maximize productivity.

PACE: Producing Algae for Co-products and Energy

Richard Sayre, Pebble Labs USA Inc. 
Sangeeta Negi, New Mexico Consortium
Jim Coons, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Scott Twary, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NMC Affiliate

This research seeks to make algal biofuels more marketable by focusing on methods to improve algal productivity, the cultivation process, and harvesting.

Amanda Barry of Los Alamos’s Bioenergy & Biome Sciences group

Boosting Algal Biomass for Biofuels with Plant Substrate Utilization

Amanda Barry, PI, LANL Staff Scientist
Jenna Schambach, LANL
Anna Finck, LANL

This LANL project looks at how algae uses raw plants substrate as a carbon energy source. A strain of microalgae, Auxenochlorella protothecoides, has been shown to directly degrade and use non-food plant substrates, such as switchgrass, for better cell growth and lipid production. This boosts this algae’s potential to be used as a biofuel and increases our understanding of how to make more efficient biofuels. Read more at: https://www.lanl.gov/discover/news-release-archive/2018/July/0717-algae-feeding-plants.php

Photo caption: LANL Photo showing Amanda Barry, the lead author of this study.
Plant Biology - New Mexico Consortium

Success Through Synergy: Increasing Cultivation Yield & Stability with Rationally Designed Consortia

Alina Corcoran, Research Scientist NMC, Guest Scientist LANL

The overall goal of this project is to increase productivity of Nannochloropsis grown in open, outdoor, brackish systems to double the current state-of-technology baseline. To achieve this goal, we are pursuing two pipelines in the lab: the development of rationally-designed intra-generic Nannochloropsis consortia and the development of bacteria-Nannochloropsis consortia. Winning (complex) consortia will be tested in bioreactor experiments and field trials. This work is being in collaboration with Shawn Starkenburg’s group at LANL.


Algae Strain Characterization and Improvement for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts
Taraka Dale,
Sangeeta Negi

Multiscale Characterization of Improved Algae Strains
Taraka Dale
Sangeeta Negi

Algae Seed Project and Biochemical Conversion Pathway
Jim Coons, LANL

This research investigates ultrasonic separation as a means to reduce the energy/cost of biomass dewatering for algal biofuels and lignin valorization.

Algal Biotechnology Development under DOE AOP
Scott Twary, LANL