, Volume 76, Issue 5, pp 969-975

Ultrahigh bioproductivity from algae

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The potential for dramatic increases in bioproductivity in algal photobioreactors relative to current biomass approaches, e.g., for converting sunlight into biofuels, by an unorthodox integration of photonics and biotechnologies is described. The key to greater biomass yields—projected as high as 100 g dry weight m−2 h−1—is a pronounced heightening of algal flux tolerance, achieved by tailoring the photonic temporal, spectral and intensity characteristics with pulsed light-emitting diodes. Such tailored photonic input is applied in concert with thin-channel ultradense culture photobioreactors with flow patterns that produce rapid light/dark algae exposure cycles. The artificial-light scheme is globally feasible only with electricity generated from renewables. Recent advances in ultra-efficient concentrator photovoltaics, as well as high-performance light-emitting diodes, create a practical reality for converting sunlight into pulsed red light and delivering it to indoor photobioreactors, with characteristic pulse times and intensities optimally suited to the rate-limiting dark reactions of photosynthesis. Cellular engineering built upon recent progress in modifying algal chlorophyll antenna size, in combination with metabolic engineering, could further enhance bioproductivity. The proposed strategy requires no major advances for implementation and adopts existing technologies.

Revision submitted to Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology on 25 June 2007.