A Texas A&M University research team, led by Dr. Arum Han, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is currently working on the development of a microfluidic lab-on-a-chip system to identify and analyze how algal biofuel grows under different conditions, and how that process can be accelerated.
Algae are seen as a viable alternative to the existing biofuels made from corn or soybean. They don’t require the same costly resources as other raw materials for biofuels, as they grow on water and don’t need harvestable land. In addition, they have more oil in their composition than corn and soybean.
Han’s team is working on an analysis of algae’s growth, using a lab-on-a-chip system that also monitors how much oil they produce. In order to accomplish this, Han’s team created a microfluidic system with photobioreactors that is small enough to fit on a chip. The system uses micro fluids to control different light conditions, thus allowing researchers to better understand optimal growing conditions for algae.
To develop his research, Han gathered scientists from different disciplines, such as Dr. Tim Devarenne, from the department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M, and Dr. David Stern from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University.
Together, these scientists are now trying to find a way to convert the slow-growing alga Botryococcus braunii into a faster and commercially viable one. The biofuel research community hopes to be able to reduce the development time of Botryococcus braunii in a lab environment from a year to just a week.
For that, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) has supported this research project with a $2 million dollar grant.
The current results of this research were recently highlighted in the scientific magazine Lab On a Chip’s front page.
Arum Han is the director of NanoBio Systems Lab and an expert in microfluidic systems.
This is not the first time that the Texas research community has utilized microfluidic technologies for cutting-edge research efforts. Back in July of 2013, BioNews Texas reported on how a Texas Tech engineering student received $225,000 from the National Science Foundation Small Business Technology Transfer to launch a microfluidic devices business.