Author(s): Subramanian S, Barry AN, Pieris S, Sayre RT
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Abstract Due to the growing need to provide alternatives to fossil fuels as efficiently, economically, and sustainably as possible there has been growing interest in improved biofuel production systems. Biofuels produced from microalgae are a particularly attractive option since microalgae have production potentials that exceed the best terrestrial crops by 2 to 10-fold. In addition, autotrophically grown microalgae can capture CO2 from point sources reducing direct atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions. The enhanced biomass production potential of algae is attributed in part to the fact that every cell is photosynthetic. Regardless, overall biological energy capture, conversion, and storage in microalgae are inefficient with less than 8\% conversion of solar into chemical energy achieved. In this review, we examine the thermodynamic and kinetic constraints associated with the autotrophic conversion of inorganic carbon into storage carbohydrate and oil, the dominant energy storage products in Chlorophytic microalgae. We discuss how thermodynamic restrictions including the loss of fixed carbon during acetyl CoA synthesis reduce the efficiency of carbon accumulation in lipids. In addition, kinetic limitations, such as the coupling of proton to electron transfer during plastoquinone reduction and oxidation and the slow rates of CO2 fixation by Rubisco reduce photosynthetic efficiency. In some cases, these kinetic limitations have been overcome by massive increases in the numbers of effective catalytic sites, e.g. the high Rubisco levels (mM) in chloroplasts. But in other cases, including the slow rate of plastoquinol oxidation, there has been no compensatory increase in the abundance of catalytically limiting protein complexes. Significantly, we show that the energetic requirements for producing oil and starch relative to the recoverable energy stored in these molecules are very similar on a per carbon basis. Presently, the overall rates of starch and lipid synthesis in microalgae are very poorly characterized. Increased understanding of the kinetic constraints of lipid and starch synthesis, accumulation and turnover would facilitate the design of improved biomass production systems.
This article was published in Biotechnol Biofuels
and referenced in Journal of Petroleum & Environmental Biotechnology