Philippines’ quest for diesel from microalgae starts at UPLB

With focus on Jatropa, sweet sorghum and cassava, biofuel research and development is fast gaining momentum in the Philippines. Just recently, the drive to produce diesel fuel from renewable and non-food biodiesel feedstock such as microalgae has gotten a big boost.

With this boost, Professor Emeritus Milagros R. Martinez-Goss of the University of the Philippines Los Baños has got the approval of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Resources Research and Development (PCAMRD) to for fund her proposal to mass cultivate freshwater microalgae for biodiesel feedstock.

Microalgae organisms can be easily grown and used to produce a wide range of commercially interesting by-products. Of particular interest to many researchers is that microalgae can produce enormous amounts of lipids which can be converted into diesel fuel.

In 2007, Yusuf Chisti of Massey University, New Zealand estimated that microalgae can produce as much as 136,900 liters of oil/ha compared to only 1,892 liters/hectare from Jatropha. Coconut, according to Chisti’s study, can only give a slightly better oil yield than Jatropha with 2,689 liters/ha.

With an initial funding of P 4.5M from the DOST-PCAMRD, Dr. Goss will be mass cultivating promising species of freshwater microalgae such as Chlorella vulgaris, Scendesmus obliques and Nitzschia palae. She states that the three species have the potential as biodiesel feedstock because of their growth rate, lipid content and lipid profile.

Dr. Goss’ project is part of a larger research program, aimed to characterize, optimize and genetically and physiologically modify microalgae for mass cultivation to be used for biodiesel production. The program will be facilitated by UPLB in cooperation with the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of Santo Tomas.

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