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Algae grown with the help of artificial intelligence could provide a new clean fuel for jet aircraft, scientists have said.
Researchers at Texas A&M believe that algal biofuels could reduce carbon emissions, mitigate climate change, alleviate petroleum dependency and transform the bio-economy.
Professor Joshua Yuan said: "The commercialisation of algal biofuel has been hindered by the relatively low yield and high harvesting cost.
"The limited light penetration and poor cultivation dynamics both contributed to the low yield."
Yuans project uses an artificial intelligence advanced learning model to predict algae light penetration, growth and optimal density.
The prediction model allows for continual harvest of synthetic algae using hydroponics to maintain the rapid growth.
Yuan and his team have successfully achieved – in an outdoor experiment – 43.3 grams per square metre per day of biomass productivity, a world record.
He said: "Algae can be used as an alternative energy source for many industries, including biofuel and as jet fuel.
"Algae is a good alternative fuel source for this industry. It's an alternate feedstock for bioethanol refinery without the need for pretreatment. It's lower cost than coal or natural gas. It also provides for a more efficient way of carbon capture and utilisation."
Yuan said algae can also be used as a source for animal feed.
Algae biofuel is regarded as one of the ultimate solutions for renewable energy, but its commercialisation is hindered by growth limitations caused by mutual shading and high harvest costs.
"We overcome these challenges by advancing machine learning to inform the design of a semi-continuous algal cultivation (SAC) to sustain optimal cell growth and minimise mutual shading," he said.
Bart Fischer, co-director of the Texas A&M Agricultural and Food Policy, said: "Algae as a renewable fuel source was a hot topic a decade ago.
"As a result, there's a lot of scepticism. I was even sceptical. However, the work that Joshua is doing is incredibly innovative. We were excited to partner on this project. At the productivity levels they obtain – and given the low-cost harvest that the strain allows – it shows a lot of promise."
Yuan said: "This technology is proven to be affordable and help propel algae as a true alternative form of energy."
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