Dr. Wayne Curtis
Professor, Chemical Engineering
Pennsylvania State University
Date: Monday, February 18, 2013
Time: 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: ITE 456
Green (and Red) Engineering: Bioreactors to Biofuels
"Where our lab has historically focused on applied plant biotechnology, this seminar will describe the transition to a breadth of biotechnology projects that includes transplanting a hydrocarbon biosynthesis pathway from algae into a autotrophic organism that consumes H2, O2 and CO2 to produce biofuels. Our work in plant biotechnology has combined temporary immersion bioreactor systems with the delivery of embryogenic transcription factors using Agrobacterium auxotrophs toward the development of large scale plant propagation of species that are recalcitrant to somatic embryogensis (including chocolate tree). Our thin film algae bioreactors have achieved cell concentrations in excess of 20 grams per liter operating for months, and demonstrating that under light-limited conditions, algae growth is photon flux limited, and the advantage of using 'fast growing' algae is lost. Similarly, we show that for biofuel production using autotrophic growth, the energy use under non-growing conditions (maintenance energy) that is critically important for economic feasibility (not rapid growth). Our progress in genetic engineering the hydrocarbon synthesis pathway of the algae Botryococcus braunii into the autotrophic organism Rhodobacter capsulatus will be presented. Efforts to develop low-cost, low operating conditions bioreactors for biofuels will be presented along with progress on an 'engineered symbiosis' for cellulosic biofuels that combines cellulolytic capability of a obligate anaerobic organism protected by a yeast which produces fuel in exchange for oxidative protection under controlled oxygen transport rates. A few snapshots will be presented to illustrate the critical role of undergraduate research in supporting ongoing projects as well as developing new research ideas."