39 North Innovation District Plan Unveiled
The Science in Our Food
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The Danforth Center’s skilled team of plant biochemists, biophysicists, and molecular biologists work toward understanding the complex processes that occur within living organisms and utilize these discoveries to better the human condition. The Center’s core facilities and state-of-the-art instrumentation are critical to their research process.
The Photobioreactor is one example and it is as prestigious as it sounds. With only a handful of these devices located in the United States, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is fortunate to have two that are used regularly by researchers at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels.
In 2007 the Taylor family, owners of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, joined forces with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the largest independent plant research center in the world, to establish the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Plant Science Center. Researchers working at the Institute aim to create the next generation of alternative fuel technologies from environmentally sound plant sources, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on non-renewable resources.
The Photobioreactors are essential component of oil studies conducted at the Center. The devices can be controlled remotely and are used frequently in Enterprise Rent A Car Institute for Renewable Fuels. The German-made tool comes with an instruction manual that is more than 1,000 pages, making expertise crucial for the machine to function properly.
The extraordinary device helps scientists measure algae growth in a controlled and monitored environment. A controlled and monitored environment is exceptionally important considering the numerous variables such as light, PH, oxygen, temperature and salinity of the water involved in this research.
The central part of the Photobioreactor is constructed as a well, which pumps three liters of fluid through a glass coil allowing a florescent light beam to pass through enabling algae growth. The instrument provides the ideal capacity for research experiments as compared to a flask which only allows for a minimal amount of algae to be examined or larger pools of 4-10 liters which are not as easy to monitor or control.
Algae offer several advantages for sustainable biofuel production over common food-crop plants. Algae can be grown and harvested year-round because they do not have a particular growing season unlike traditional food crops. Algae can capture carbon dioxide from coal burning power plants or other CO2 sources reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The algal lipid (oil) used to make biodiesel can be extracted without killing the organisms. Analogous to milking a cow as opposed to slaughtering it, this significantly lessens the amount of fertilizer required, and consequently the price of the final product.
Getting these plants to increase their oil production is a key component to the feasibility of large-scale use of bio-oils. An advantage of biofuels is that the liquid energy created can be transported and stored using existing infrastructure in a much more efficient manner compared to other alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power.
The Photobioreactor is one tool that is helping the Danforth Center scientists in their efforts to develop technologies that will reduce the cost per gallon of biofuel to between two and three dollars, competitive with fossil fuels.
It is estimated that this target, which will demonstrate the feasibility of replacing gasoline, will be reachable, albeit on a small scale, within the next five years.