Microalgal Biotechnology

Microalgal Biotechnology

Photosynthetic microorganisms use a direct route to convert inorganic carbon into functional molecules while employing sunlight. Our mission is to develop a commercial and sustainable production chain for food, feed, chemistry and energy from microalgae and cyanobacteria. We integrate biological and engineering studies of cellular processes, work on strain improvement, cultivation optimization and scale-up. We bridge fundamental research to applications in outdoor pilot facilities (www.AlgaePARC.com) and use techno-economic models to assess and guide our research program.

Mission

Develop sustainable processes for cost effective and sustainable conversion of sunlight into functional products by photosynthetic microorganisms.

Expertises

Design of phototrophic bioprocesses

for a wide range of biobased products. Further industrialization of the process and cultivation systems (i.e. photobioreactors) is required to decrease production costs and increase production scale. Outdoor cultivation is complex due to rapidly changing light intensities and fluctuations in temperature. We study the process parameters determining productivity outdoors (light, temperature, day/night cycles) and develop models to predict and optimize productivity outdoors. Our knowledge is translated into improved control of photobioreactors. In addition, we design innovative cultivation concepts aiming at higher photosynthetic efficiencies, reduced energy requirements, and reduced investment and operating costs.

Industrial strains: Metabolic engineering and strain improvement

One of the big challenges is to develop robust strains, which have high photosynthetic efficiency and high product yield under low energy/cost operational conditions, such as oscillating temperatures, high light intensities, high salt concentrations. To reach this goal, we study cell metabolism under high controlled conditions to understand phenotypes at different cellular levels, decipher regulation and pinpoint targets for genetic engineering to increase product yield. In addition, we use mutagenesis and cell sorting to select cells with increased performance and study the different phenotypes in order to understand the underlying principles for differences in performance within the same species.

Techno-Economic and Energy analysis

We use economic and sustainability assessment of the entire chain as a guiding tool for defining the research program which integrates biological and engineering aspects of cultivation and biorefinery.

To do so, techno-economic models have been developed and we perform model-based simulations, combined with pilot-plant production data to bridge the gap between research and applications. This allows us to assess the impact of our research on the costs and energy demand of the process, and to set clear goals for our research program.