Our Bold Idea
Bruce Rittmann is living large and small at the same time. He’s tackling some of the world’s biggest and most critical technological challenges---such as the future of energy-- with some of the tiniest tools. ASU researchers are optimizing tiny, photosynthetic bacteria, called cyanobacteria, to produce a sustainable, high-yield fuel that can be used in conventional engines. The initiative draws on a diverse array of multidisciplinary ASU research and expertise from the Biodesign Institute, School of Life Sciences and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, with ASU professors Bruce Rittmann and Wim Vermaas leading the research and development efforts. “We are pursuing two coordinated, parallel tracks in which we will both optimize the metabolic processes involved in the production of the high-energy biofuel and engineer a photobioreactor to make the process efficient and cost-effective,” said Rittmann.
Reserves of fossil fuels—a cornerstone of industrialized society—are being depleted and most atmospheric scientists today agree that their continued use puts our air quality as well as the stability of the earth’s climate, in peril. Finding viable alternatives to burning oil, natural gas and coal is not just desirable, it is essential. This platform for renewable solar energy-to-biofuels conversion combines innovative metabolic engineering with state-of-the-art, large-scale bioprocess engineering. In our current phase, we are addressing issues associated with bioreactor scale-up prior to introducing the improved strains and equipment into the large-scale field test bed bioreactor for final validation.
A key imperative of ASU’s global sustainability initiatives is to engage our faculty and students and provide innovative solutions for the problems that afflict our planet. We are taking advantage of perhaps our greatest natural resource, the abundant sunshine of the Southwest, as a prime catalyst for new discoveries that will benefit our region. Biofuel production from cyanobacterial photobioreactors should be scalable to a point where it represents a major source of carbon-neutral fuel for the United States, as well as high-quality employment and overall economic growth in the State.
Bruce Rittmann, PhD
Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology