Wei Yu wins von Liebig fellowship

The von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement at the University of California, San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, has awarded four new graduate von Liebig fellowships to pursue the commercialization of research that will increase energy efficiency and the growth of renewable energy sources.

One of the von Liebig fellowships was awarded to Wei Yu, a Ph.D candidate in UCLA’s Bioengineering Department, working in UCLA’s Micro Systems Laboratories under the guidance of Prof. Chih Ming Ho. Yu has devised a novel strategy to increase the oil and protein production of Botryococcus Braunii, which could be subsequently converted into fuels and also used as feedstock. Furthermore, this approach could also shorten the growth cycle of B.braunii, which could possibly increase the harvest frequency, and save time and cost for cultivating cells. At present, microalgal biofuel is still rarely used in the energy refinery field due to its low yield, therefore to increase the biofuel production, along with shortening the growth cycle, is of great importance for microalgal to fuse into the current energy resource market.


During the past two years, Yu has been working on this robust protocol to confirm and improve the result. After more than 10 experimental demonstrations, a reliable protocol has showed its worthwhile position in biofuel study, and is approved by UCLA’s OIP office. This strategy involved a well-defined culture condition, and now Yu (with a colleague) is testing the feasibility of this strategy in a large scale culture condition, in order to evaluate the commercial potential of this protocol.

B.braunii is regarded as a potential source of renewable fuel because of its ability to produce large amounts of hydrocarbons. Depending on the strain and growth conditions, up to 75% of algal dry mass can be hydrocarbons. The chemical nature of hydrocarbons varies with the producer strain. Compared to other green algae species, it has a relatively thick cell wall that is accumulated from previous cellular divisions, making extraction of cytoplasmic components rather difficult. Fortunately, much of the useful hydrocarbon oil is outside of the cell.

“We are developing a strategy that could increase the oil and protein production ofB.braunii, since the current bottleneck of scale production on this species is its slow growth,” said Yu. “Our lab has devised an optimized culture condition for  B.braunii via a feedback system control strategy. And now we are focusing on some significant pathways in its metabolism route, aiming to tunnel the nutrients into the desired biosynthesis pathway.”

The ideas of using metabolism regulating to maximize the biofuel production of B.braunii were initiated by Prof. Chih Ming Ho, Prof. James Liao, Prof. Laurent Pilon, and realized by Wei Yu, Yitong Zhao, who are both Ph.D students in the Bioengineering Department, working in Prof. Ho’s Lab.

The invention named “A Feasible Biofuel Strategy To Achieve An Enhanced Oil And Protein Production Of Botryococcus Brauni” was approved by UCLA’s OIP office. And the inventors included Wei Yu, Yitong Zhao, Dr. Chih Ming Ho, Dr. James Liao and Dr. Laurent Pilon.


Readmore at http://www.mae.ucla.edu/news/news-archive/2012/wei-yu-wins-von-liebig-fellowship

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