JAN 12, 2020 07:09 AM PST

Using Microbial Manufacturers to Create Eco-Friendly Skis

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

There is huge potential in microbes; researchers have long been trying to use them to produce valuable materials like medicine, polymers, and fuel. It has become straightforward enough to engineer the microbial genome so that organisms like bacteria or algae can serve a variety of purposes in manufacturing. Biomanufacturing is often efficient compared to traditional methods, using fewer resources and producing less waste. However, scaling small reactions up to the quantities that are often required has been a major hurdle in the field.

After a microbe has been genetically engineered to produce some desired product, that microbe must be grown in a culture, which can be fraught with challenges, especially as more and more are grown in larger volumes. The product then has to be harvested and purified from the growth culture. This production scheme usually has to be tested and refined by a team of researchers.

One place to find that kind of research team is the Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU). They have helped dozens of companies with this work in their region, the San Francisco Bay Area, including one called Checkerspot that wanted help creating high-performance skis using algae.

The company was able to take advantage of a DOE Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO),  grant that helps startups in their earliest stages.

“Our company formed because we had these single-celled microalgae that produces high amounts of triglyceride oils, which have an array of applications in food, personal care, and materials – including plastic alternatives,” said Checkerspot co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Scott Franklin. “We were interested in further developing the microalgae as a sustainable platform, and we decided to focus on materials because there's really not a lot of novel or new materials development across a huge range of industries. Basically, people have been relying on what comes out of a barrel of oil for new polymers for a long time.”

The company co-founders wanted to create a way to make triglyceride polymers that could be used to build new stuff. For these outdoor enthusiasts, creating recreational products made sense, and a material that was light and flexible could be put to good use as skis, which are often made of different types of plastic.

First, the scientists at Checkerspot had to work with the team at ABPDU to find the right strains of algae; they wanted to find the ones that made the most oil. Next, they studied how to grow the strains efficiently in one-liter cultures. Next, they tested the growth at 300-liter volumes; that amount is necessary to make several kilograms of triglycerides. At that point, they were then able to move on to making the ski prototypes.

Right now, the algae are being grown in 300-liter cultures, then converted at a processor in Minnesota before being sent to Salt Lake City for another conversion to polymers that are used to make the skis on site. Learn more about the skis here.

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JAN 20, 2020
Immunology
JAN 20, 2020
This is How Your Immune System Responds to Ebola Vaccination
Vaccines to prevent Ebola are still in their infancy, with experimental-only versions being used only in the most dire of instances. In a new study, scient...
JAN 20, 2020
Immunology
JAN 20, 2020
Immune System Responsible for Organ Failure in Malaria
In the most severe cases of malaria, a person can experience organ failure and die. Often times, though, this is not directly due to the parasitic malaria ...
JAN 20, 2020
Microbiology
JAN 20, 2020
Pathogenic E. coli Tends to Come From Poor Hygiene, Not Contaminated Food
A new study has shown that antibiotic-resistant E. coli spreads primarily because of poor hygiene....
JAN 20, 2020
Microbiology
JAN 20, 2020
How a Virus Can Help Treat Alcoholic Liver Disease
Viruses don't only infect humans, some, called bacteriophages or phages, infect bacteria. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/AFADadcADSasd...
JAN 20, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
JAN 20, 2020
Using a Bacterial Syringe to Deliver Proteins to Cells
Researchers want to use a pathogen's strategy for therapeutic purposes....
JAN 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 20, 2020
Outbreak of Drug-Resistant Infections Linked to Pet Store Puppies
The CDC is warning people about an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria that's been linked to store-bought puppies....
Loading Comments...