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Hydrogen Fuel Production From Microalgae

2009 DOT-RITA Seed Award


PI: Dr. Svetlana Oard (Louisiana State University)
Co-PI: Dr. Michael Mailander (Louisiana State University)
Co-PI: Dr. Chandra Theegala (Louisiana State University)

Funded: $69,925

Start Date: 7/1/2009

End Date: 6/30/2011


Expected Outcomes

Critical residues for O2 sensitivity will be determined that will allow the design of potential mutations for improving enzyme tolerance to O2. The system for inducible production of hydrogenases in microalgae will be optimized. This system will be used in the future to introduce the best engineered hydrogenase variants into microalgae for developing a strain for light induced H2 production. H2 utilization by use of a fuel cell will be determined, and knowledge of any required gas conditioning established. These outcomes will enable to probe for mutations minimizing inactivation of hydrogenases by O2 and to achieve the overall goal. Further, prospective hydrogenase variants for improving resistance to the presence of O2 will be created within two years. Improved strains of microalgae capable of producing H2 in the presence of O2 will be developed in next three years. The economical and scalable process for algae cultivation and H2 utilization and a microalgae/H2 /fuel cell system will be developed simultaneously.


Broader impacts: Design of a hydrogenase with increased resistance to O2 will greatly improve the process of H2 production in microalgae. Production of low-cost H2 biofuels will accelerate the transition to a hydrogen economy and help to eliminate US dependence on foreign oil and create many new jobs. We will develop industrial scale production of microalgae through utilization of cheap pond-based systems. Therefore, there will be no competition between “biofuels crops” and food crops. Of importance to know about this project:


  1. Pond-based systems can utilize marginal soils.
  2. Use of microalgae for biofuels will remove social controversy caused by use of corn and similar food grains that divert these commodities from food for humans and livestock.
  3. H2 can be also converted locally into electricity or used to produce ammonia fertilizer which is required in hundreds of millions of tons.
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