Algae researcher receives Japan Fellowship

August 2, 2012

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Dr Navid Moheimani of Murdoch University’s Algae R&D Centre has received a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Invitation Fellowship for Research in Japan.

The Fellowship allows Japanese institutes and universities to invite colleagues from Australia for the purpose of cooperative scientific research.

Dr Moheimani will be spending three months at the University of Tsukuba with Professor Makoto Watanabe and his team, who have been working on the Botryococcus braunii for more than two decades.

Botryococcus braunii is the only known microalga which excretes hydrocarbon capable of being used as a source of liquid biofuel.

Professor Watanabe has published heavily in this field and has pioneered several techniques for detailed study of B. braunii. His work complements ongoing efforts at Murdoch, where Dr Moheimani, Professor Michael Borowitzka and Dr Ralf Cord-Ruwisch have been developing a unique methodology to non-destructively extract oil from the microalga – a project which saw them receive a Murdoch University Strategic Research Fund grant in 2010.

“We’ve developed a non-destructive strategy for extracting oil in which the alga does not need to be grown repeatedly for each extraction but can be re-used. We compare it to milking a cow,” Dr Moheimani said.

“In fact, the alga does not have to grow at all as long as the fuel can be harvested without killing the cells. This results in significant savings in fertiliser usage and waste biomass disposal costs.

“Using algae for biofuel is important, because it can overcome ethical issues, namely the use of food crops for energy.”

The main purpose of Dr Moheimani’s visit to Dr Watanbe’s lab is to develop Murdoch’s technique further and establish a long-term relationship between the two universities.

“Professor Watanabe’s laboratory is, most likely, the only place I can increase my knowledge of B. braunii. We’ve developed a unique method, but we need to verify it, which this Fellowship will aid immensely,” Dr Moheimani said.

“The opportunity to work with peers in Japan will increase our chance of being successful in large-scale algae-to-bio-energy production, which is very exciting.”

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