Freak discovery could lead to revolutionary, new biofuel

MISA researchers from SARDI have isolated and evaluated a ‘super strain’ of a native microalgae species that could form the basis of a local biofuels industry.

Scientists say a freak discovery of a super strain of algae could create a new local biofuels industry, which could to supplement fuels like petrol and diesel.

This breakthrough in biodiscovery comes after six years of ‘bioprospecting’ across thousands of kilometres of the State and into the waters of the Great Australian Bight by SARDI researchers followed by laboratory and small-scale outdoor raceway trials.

The success in finding this particular strain of microalgae among the hundreds of microalgal species and strains evaluated has given South Australia a head start as research into third generation biofuels advances to the next level.

But Dr Sasi Nayar says the algae strain, with commercial potential as a fuel, grew in a beaker at his laboratory.

“It was sheer luck I would say. I mean, it was almost like winning a $20 million lotto, because it grew right in the backyard without any intervention or any deliberate preparation to anticipate that this would grow, so it just grew in a beaker with seawater in it.”

Dr Sasi Nayar who leads the SARDI Algal Production Group says the research isolated 14 native strains with potential.

“The flagship strain stands head and shoulders above the rest – it is a specific strain of Nannochloropsis (green algae), with an unusually high lipid and protein content.”

“These attributes mean that the microalgae has tremendous commercial potential with application across the full range of oil uses from biofuels to high value co-products such as animal and human food supplements, nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals such as skin cream and anti-ageing creams” he said.

“We are at a stage where we now know a lot about this species and its optimal growing conditions and we are ready to scale up to commercial level to refine the production systems to be used.”

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