Screening and improvement of marine micro-algae for oil production

Stephen Slocombe, Qian Zhang, Michael Ross, Michele Stanley, John Day

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The micro-algal biotech sector began in the 1940’s where the first modern attempts to grow micro-algae were focussed on finding alternative sources of chemicals for use in munition manufacturing during the Second World War, by examined the production of lipids by 2 various micro-algae (Burlew, 1953, Harder and Witsch, 1942). Later, during the oil-crisis of the 1970’s, when the price of petroleum was high, micro-algae were revisited for their potential in biofuels based on their ability to accumulate oil, which is usually in the form of
triaclglycerols (Borowitzka 2013). Microalgae have high theoretical productivities, partly due to their unicellular nature, which leads to an efficient resource allocation into storage products as opposed to structure, their rapid growth rate, and through their carbon concentrating mechanisms which increase the efficiency of CO2 utilization (Giordano et al. 2005).
The global economy is to a great extent dependant on the use of oil, gas and coal and disinvestment in fossil fuels and their replacement with sustainable alternatives appears to be required to avoid worsening climate change. In this context economic conditions need to become more favourable, or the costs of production must be lowered, for microalgal biofuels to deliver solutions (Stephens et al. 2010). A variety of strategies have been proposed
including coproduction of biofuels with high-value products (Williams and Laurens, 2010).
The technologies developed for the production of intermediate-value products at larger scale, such as niche-market “healthy” vegetable oils and industrial oils could act as stepping-stones towards this goal.
Micro-algae are currently grown for high-value biomass destined for health-foods or aquaculture feeds, as well as specific high-value products. The latter are mostly lipid-based nutraceuticals or cosmeceuticals such as carotenoids and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Some of these such as the beta-carotene precursor are currently produced profitably at large scale in artificial lagoons.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMicro-Algal Production for Biomass and High-Value Products
EditorsStephen Slocombe, John Benemann
Place of PublicationBoca Raton, FL
PublisherTaylor and Francis / CRC Press (USA)
Number of pages31
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4822-1971-5
ISBN (Print)978-1-4822-1970-8
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


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