New fuels from biology
Securing clean, safe and reliable energy supplies is vital to a healthy and prosperous planet. ChELSI research develops new sources of biodiesel and seeks to improve the yields and sustainability of current crop-based biofuels.
Algae show great promise as a novel biodiesel production platform. ChELSI researchers working on naturally oil-rich algae examine biological and engineering strategies to enhance yields, from altering nutrient supplies and genetic modification, through to improving downstream processing for harvesting oils.
Current biofuels largely derive from crops such as sugarcane. Competition between food and fuel crops places pressure on food prices and land use. Lignin - a significant component of crop biomass - is difficult to degrade for biofuel production. ChELSI research examines mechanisms of lignocellulose degradation by bacteria isolated from cattle rumen.
Rather than use biology to synthesise chemical fuels, microbial fuel cells tap into cellular biochemistry to generate electricity directly. ChELSI synthetic biologists have improved electricity yields by applying quantitative proteomics to understand how natively electrogenic bacteria function and design biological modules that allow non-electrogenic bacteria to generate electricity.
Alongside energy production, ChELSI researchers investigate potential biological risks to other novel energy generation approaches, such as corrosion and biofouling in harnessing tidal power due to immersion of machinery in marine environments.
"Converting crops into biofuels puts pressure on food prices. By integrating algal biofuels and wastewater treatment, we tap the nutrients in waste to produce a truly sustainable biofuel."
Dr Stephen J. Wilkinson