The ePBR system is the world’s first standard algae growing platform that simulates dynamic natural environments

At a time when scientists around the world are experimenting with making cheaper alternative energies for our future, a team of scientists has invented a new technology that increases the odds of helping algae-based biofuels cross the gap and come closer to reality.

The team’s invention — the environmental photobioreactor (ePBR system) — is the world’s first standard algae growing platform, one that simulates dynamic natural environments. The ePBR system is like a pond in a jar that helps identify, cultivate, and test algal strains that have the potential to make the leap from lab to pond — proliferate in real-world, real-pond settings and produce the most oil.

By allowing scientists to duplicate natural settings in a lab, ePBRs eliminates many variables before scaling up. “The bioreactors are about the size of coffee makers and can induce changes in light, temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, evaporation, nutrient availability and more,” said Ben Lucker, research associate at Michigan State University (MSU). The ePBR system can also duplicate and confirm results from experiments conducted anywhere in the world. “It replaces home-built growing platforms made from flasks, tubing, aluminium foil and grow lights and gives researchers a tool that can consistently replicate conditions and reproduce results,” Mr.Lucker said.

Many scientists around the globe are looking for strains of algae that could become a sustainable source of alternative energy. A vexing problem they face, however, is that algal strains that perform well in labs often get stomped when it’s time to scale-up the experiment. The potential of ePBRs has already inspired the launch of a company, Phenometrics, an MSU spinoff headquartered in Lansing, said the report in the current issue of Algal Research.