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Researchers at Montana State working to unlock algae's potential, including as fuel source

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Posted at 6:09 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 12:23:04-04

BOZEMAN — Montana State University researchers continue to delve into the potential that algae has to offer, from fuel to food, fertilizer, cleaning products and more.

MSU Research Professor Huyen Bui thinks of her job as "play" and is passionate about unlocking algae's potential.

“We basically take what nature—mother nature—came up with, and adapt it to our purpose,” Bui said.

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Dr. Huyen Bui, Research Professor at Montana State University

Already, we see algae in action in beverages with a seemingly endless future, according to Dr. Robin Gerlach, a professor of Chemical & Biological Engineering at MSU.

“These organisms, micro-organisms, we haven’t even discovered a fraction of a percent of what they can do,” Gerlach said.

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Dr. Robin Gerlach, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering

After researching for decades, it has been discovered that algae can be utilized for fuel for trucks and cars. Gerlach notes that for the last 10 years, gas prices have been relatively low and algae fuel cannot compete.

“You cannot competitively produce fuel from algae at this point because of the gas prices—now this may change with the high oil prices,” he said.

Despite the timing of implementing algae-based fuel, other aspects of algae are continuously being pursued in the lab.

Digital Extra: In the lab with Dr. Gerlach

Algae research at Montana State University

“Producing the same products—but from algae, which takes up CO2 from the atmosphere, ultimately, and turns it into useful products,” Gerlach said.

Gerlach said that it used to take millions of years for algae to reach states that with research and development can now be done in a week.