The process relies on mostly man-made organisms and enzymes to break down the sturdy, protein-rich plant parts into gasoline, diesel and other fuels.
What is the impact?
Schoenknecht and others hope to take the knowledge from the volcanic algae and apply some of those cell properties to the organisms used with biofuels.
“Our research could be useful in having an organism that can tolerate high heat or metal contamination,” Schoenknecht said. “The idea is that if we understand how this red algae can deal with hostile environmental conditions, it may enable us by genetic modification to toughen biofuels-producing algae, to introduce this ability into biofuels algae.”
Ray Hunke, director of the Biobased Products and Energy Center at OSU, leads biofuels research concentrating on switch grass and other possible feedstock. He said more research is needed in all aspects of the biofuels process.
“We take a holistic approach at Oklahoma State,” Hunke said. “We have a team of researchers who are working together and evaluating how we can utilize our resources via the various conversion process.
“It's a feedback mechanism. Everyone is talking to each other to achieve the best possible scenario, the most efficient process available, through our research,” Hunke said.