GUWAHATI, Aug 17 - Gauhati University is now focusing on algal entrepreneurship, while leading private and public sector companies like Reliance and Indian Oil Corporation Ltd are also showing interest in algae fuels. The biotechnology division of Aban Infrastructure Pvt Ltd in Chennai has developed a novel mass cultivation technology using robust algal strains to achieve higher biomass productivity round the year.
Talking to this correspondent, Prof MC Kalita, head of the Department of Biotechnology at GU, said the scope of investing in algal research, especially on biofuel, is promising, because algae can produce between 7,500 and 19,000 litres of fuel per acre, far more than any other renewable feedstock.
A series of pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products, besides chemicals, are now being developed from algae. India is a growing market for micro algae such as Spirulina, which is now used in producing nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products. There is scope for both small-scale, as cottage industries, and large-scale algal farming. It could promote the power of algae to transform human society and facilitate a future in which algae are a fundamental source of energy, nutrition products and ecological services for a sustainable society globally, said Kalita.
Studies have been carried out over the last 14 years in the GU Department of Biotechnology, under the sponsorships of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India and Government of Assam by a team of researchers.
The team � that included Dr J Talukdar, Dr RD Goswami, M Majumdar, Dr N Gohain, J Medhi, Dr B Sarma, Dr A Devi, Rengani Das and Priyanka Paul, with Prof Kalita as its leader � envisaged with the isolation and screening of freshwater biodiesel potential micro algae of the region. It resulted in commendable results with the isolation of 24 freshwater micro algae species indigenous to Assam.
The team has already developed the technology for the possible commercial utilisation and biotechnological applications of the locally available algal species. Among the micro algae isolated by the team, Chlorella sp, Botryococcus braunii, Ankistrodesmus sp, Scenedesmus sp, Euglena sp, Haematococcus sp, Navicula sp, and Nitzchia sp are few oleaginous micro algae important for biofuel production and other products.
The lipid content of some of the isolated micro algae species grown in normal medium were found in the range between 11.3 per cent and 42 per cent of dry weight. Analysis of the carotenoid contents of the selected native microalgae species also revealed higher content of lutein, lycopene and astaxanthin, which can be produced as other high valued products in the course of liquid biofuel production.
The liquid hydrocarbon producing green micro algae B braunii is significant among the isolated microalgae, which exhibited hydrocarbon in the range between 21.9-60.7 per cent of dry weight. Some of the isolated micro algae, like Scenedesmus sp (8-56 per cent protein; 10-52 per cent carbohydrate), Chlorella sp (51-58 per cent protein; 12-26 per cent carbohydrate), Euglena sp (39-61 per cent protein; 14-18 per cent carbohydrate and 14-20 per cent lipid) are also reported to contain high percentage of carbohydrate and protein in addition to its moderate to high lipid content, which justify the sufficiently high scope for utilization of these species as a boon for bio-entrepreneurship towards potential biofuel production and other value added products, said Kalita.