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Biological Energy Institute Page


Team Members: Grant Robinson and Nancy Ouyang

Team Mentor: Kelly Drinkwater

General Project Idea: Self-Sustained Photosynthetic Energy System


Codependency / Basal Killswitch

Given the general criticism of transgenic species as far as escape into the wild is concerned, we propose to establish a series of biological modifications that would entirely remove the production of certain small enzymes key to continued cell growth that, if lost, would correspond to a nearly immediate death. Going further beyond this idea, we propose to have organisms in our bioreactor exhibit codependence as a result of engineered pathways allowing one organism to produce and excrete the precise enzymes required for its associate organisms's growth.

Nutrient Recycling

Given the issue of costs in photobioreactors, it would be extremely useful to remove any expenditures or cleaning requirements associated with energy production. To this end, we propose a nutrient recycling system based upon key bacteria, including nitrogen fixers and phosphorus-subproduct decomposers.

Note: Carbon out must equal carbon in per day to make sure that the system is constant. Water could be slightly purified through some means before being added to the tank; regardless, CO2 + H2O out would have to CO2 + H20 in per day to maintain the system.

Contamination Resistance

Given the overwhelming issue of system failure via invasion of outside organisms, we propose to include production of a powerful antibiotic that would be produced by one of the system bacteria so as to make invasive takeover increasingly more unlikely. This, in addition to a high salinity environment, would reduce the chance of system failure and allow us to make use of large scale algal ponds.

General Factory Design Parameters

From a mechanical perspective, we expect our systems to require nothing more than an initial investment of resources and continued water input. To this end, we would have to safeguard against such issues as cold weather or rain. A simple safeguard would be a small rollover shutter that could be used to cover the normally open ponds. Furthermore, we have envisioned two tanks, with the bacterial tank being lower than the algal tank and connected via a water bridge.

General Management Concerns

       The construction of our reactor is straightforward. Begin with two long raceway ponds connected by a slanting water bridge.
       One should be elevated above the other. Add transgenic algae, signal compounds, the required nutrient fertilizer, and a 
       proper saltwater solution. (Note that the use of saltwater allows for extension of our system to coastal locations rather
       than crop-producing areas, and has no impact on water use pressures.) After one algal life cycle- for our strain, roughly
       seven-ten days- add the bacterial cultures to the lower raceway pond. From here on out, the bacteria will feed on sedimenting
       dead algae, produce our customized antibiotic, and recycle system nutrients to the algae tank. No inputs other than occasional
       saltwater will be necessary. Assuming sufficiently warm weather, heating will be unnecessary. The algae will produce hydrocarbons
       that will rise to the top of the first raceway pond and may be siphoned off via vertical descent into a reservoir. Similarly, 
       the bacteria will produce ethanol through the use of the dead algae, which will bubble upward and be restricted to yet another
       reservoir. Potential fermentation may also allow for methane and CO2 production; the former would be isolated while the latter
       would be released back to the growing algae.
       Issues with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, while exceedingly unlikely given a concentrated saltwater medium combined with 
       high antibiotic concentrations, are possible. In this case, we recommend complete purification and rebooting of the system
       via (environmentally sound) dumping and ethanol cleaning. For the purpose of rebooting, we propose to store at low Celsius
       temperatures no less than 10 identical strains of our algal and bacterial cultures. Although the transient state preceding
       steady energy production is presently assumed to last no more than two weeks, it is crucial to ensure the integrity of the
       system during these early days. As such, we recommend system isolation and low-scale energy siphoning- if any energy is, in
       fact, produced. Once the system is stable, as noted above, we anticipate no requirement for tank cleaning or costly/labor
       intensive oil/gas reclamation. That being said, the initial investment for our system is likely to be on the higher side
       of a simple two-pond system; we are at present unsure how many years of steady production would be necessary to recoup these 
       (Note: This assumes implementation of all element pathways. It may be the case that fertilizer costs are merely reduced by
       90-95% rather than completely eradicated, but this could theoretically be improved to 100% with further modification.)

System Specifics


1) Nutrient Recycling

Initial Step

(Dead Algae) --> [Decomposer] --> (Algae Subproduct Ao, A1, A2, A3, A4, etc.)

Secondary Steps

(Ao) --> [Nitrogen Recycling System: -step1- --> -step2- --> -step3-] --> NH4+ (Example)

Algae Growth Requirements

1. Water (Hydrogen & Oxygen) 2. Carbon Dioxide (Carbon) 3. Sunlight (Energy) 4. Nitrogen Cycling 5. Phosphorus Cycling 6. Potassium Cycling 7. Sulfur Cycling 8. Calcium Cycling 9. Magnesium Cycling 10. Boron Cycling 11. Cobalt Cycling 12. Copper Cycling 13. Iron Cycling 14. Manganese Cycling 15. Molybdenum Cycling 16. Zinc Cycling

2) Codependence

Cyclic Endocrine Pathway

       (O and D) --> Algae --> (X and A) --> Bacteria --|
       ^			                        |

3) Decontamination

[(Algae)(Z)] [(Bacteria)(Z)] --> Z


Literature to be Considered


1. Commensalism Papers: Yeast (Tryptophan) Mammalian/Bacteria 2. Present Day Algae Fuel Factory Requirements 3. Present Day Efforts with Multi-Organism Factories (Microbial Fuel Cells and Beyond) 4. Examination of Ideal Algae, Nutrient Recycling Bacteria, and Fermentation Bacteria 5. Examination of Suitable Antibiotics 6. Examination of Useful Small Molecule Regulators 7. Possible Applications to Wastewater, Brackish Water, and Generally Nonsaline Media


Biological Engineering Design Notebook

Friday, April 9, 2010


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