MSU researchers Keith Cooksey, Brent Peyton and Rob Gardner (from left) discovered that baking soda, added at a specific time in the growth cycle of algae, dramatically increases the production of oil. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).
Montana State University researchers have discovered that baking soda can dramatically increase algae’s production of the key oil precursors for biodiesel. When added at a particular time in the growing cycle, baking soda more than doubled the amount of oil produced in half the time in three different types of algae.
Cooksey said baking soda may work because it gives algae extra carbon dioxide necessary for its metabolism at a key point in its life cycle. If the baking soda is added too early or too late, the algae don’t respond. But when added at just the right time in the growth cycle, algae produce two to three times the oil in half the time of conventional growth models. The oil, or lipid, is composed of triacylglycerides, the key precursors to biodiesel and biojet fuel.
“For industry, if you double your output in half the time, that’s a big deal,” Cooksey said.
Reducing the amount of time needed to produce oil is also good because algal-producing ponds are prone to contamination, he added. If growers can produce oil faster, they can reduce the opportunity for contamination to ruin the product.