I have identified the presentation speakers and some notes that I took down from the symposium.
Steve Kay (University of California San Diego) - Introduction
Dr. Kay started the symposium off with an introduction and some of the goals of SD-CAB. One of SD-CAB's goals is to provide a "pipeline of people knowledgeable about algae." This speaks very loudly to the need for intellectual capital in this expanding industry. The industry is growing in a number of areas including publications, citations, patents, and funding as Kay showed from with the slides (see below). For the remainder of the symposium, Kay asked the audience to treat the science presented at the symposium in a "peer reviewed" way.
Slides from Dr. Steve Kay's presentation are available on the SD-CAB website. (Click the link and they should open in a PDF)
Below are some of the slides that I found very interesting. (Source: All images below are from Dr. Steve Kay's presentation)
Mayfield's talk on “Algal biofuel: Where are we now, where we are going” puts energy into perspective with prediction that we currently spend $5.8 trillion on energy and that number is expected to nearly double by 2020 to $10.4 trillion. The situation only becomes more sobering with estimates that our current energy supplies will likely be consumed by 2099 if not sooner.
So what are our options? A diversified portfolio of solutions was presented each with their strengths and weaknesses. Algae's limiting factors are considered to be "scale and cost." The graph at the right shows some potential strategies and pricing necessary to reach cost effective biofuels.
One factor that can be easy to lose sight of until the process needs to be scaled are the input costs. Inputs include carbon dioxide, water, nutrients, and sunlight. Fertilizer costs and crop productivity in agriculture share an inverse relationship. Historically, increased fertilizer costs result in lower crop productivity as farmers reduce their use of fertilizer. When Dr. Mayfield made this point it seemed obvious but really makes a person think about introducing a whole new form of agriculture.
Other major areas of focus were on the biomass production, harvesting, and product extraction.
Slides from Dr. Steve Mayfield’s presentation are available on the SD-CAB website. (Click the link and they should open in a PDF)
Dr. Falkowski discussed photosynthetic efficiency of algae, and its potential use for screening. However, he pointed out that there is currently no perfect optimization photosynthetic efficiency strategy for mass algae culture. In their screening process they also looked at the lipid accumulation.
Dr. Falkowski co-wrote an editorial in Science last August about Future Energy Institutes. The editorial discusses the need for "investing in the brainpower" for Americas future of sustainability and economic strategies.
Christophe Benning (Michigan State University) Identification of factors required for oil biosynthesis in microalgae
Dr. Benning talk on the lipid metabolism in Chlamydamonus was very interesting and inlcuded a multiple technology approach. With over 30,000 mutants have been screened by their lab groups, their experience has shown that there was little variation or improvement in the mutants. He also mentioned it can be difficult maintain a unique phenotype due to the rapid doubling time of algae.
While lipid accumulation commonly increases under nitrogen limitation in algae, it also occurs during iron limiting conditions.
Dr. Goodenough reviewed the close out report from the Aquatic Species Program report and found that Chlamydamonus was not a lipid producer. However, their group found that Chlamydamonus was a lipid producer. In fact, a starchless mutant they found that the algae produces over 50% lipids. They also noticed that sulfur depletion induces lipid bodies.
Susan Golden (University of California San Diego) Cyanobacteria: the other algae
Dr. Golden gave an impressive talk about cyanobacteria and their potential in biofuels. Why is she studying cyanobacteria? There are 73 cyanobacterial genomes and 22 of those are currently in progress. The genomes are relatively small (1.6 to 9.0 Mb). It is transformable.
In some of the results that they shared they discussed lipid production. They looked at a the genes that are associated with lipid profile modifications. Their work takes a very genetic approach to identify the which genes are responsible for different traits (secretion of fatty acids, filamentous traits). I was impressed to see to that actually went out into the field to collected production strains. This strategy can be difficult because you have to go through the process of making you collections axenic, and you are starting with little to know information science literature. In their screening process, they evaluated their strains under a variety of temperatures, salinities, pH conditions, and light intensities. From this screening and survey they grew the strain under outdoor conditions on a larger scale. As a result, they now have a candidate model organism that has commercial applications.
Arthur Grossman (Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford CA) Light and the production of biodiesel by algae; pros and cons
Dr. Grossman said something that really resonated with me. "We are losing genes from the genetic dictionary." He said this after going through the background of energy usage, a warming climate, economics, etc. The reason that this had such big impact on me is because I think that it can be easy to lose sight of the long term strategy. Nature is rich in models and information that we can find useful applications for. if we lose that genetic information we lose something valuable.
Grossman also proposed a heterotrophic approach to growing algae due to short crop turn around time, high cell density, and high oil content. This thought process came from his encounters with Solazyme. A few people had commented on the obstacles of capital costs and feedstock supply costs.
Dr. Grossman closed his talk with an appropriate quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It's completely impossible. 2- It's possible, but it's not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along.