We are developing a commercially viable process of producing biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol) from microalgae growing in saline water. The work covers the whole process from the production of lipid rich algal biomass to harvesting and extraction of the lipids and potential uses of the remaining biomass (much of the downstream processing work is in collaboration with Drs D. Lewis & P. Ashman at the University of Adelaide). Long-term (over 2 years) outdoor trials in mini-ponds in Perth have been extremely successful and a pilot plant was constructed in Karratha, WA and commissioned in November 2010. This ius the first algae biofuels pilot plant in Australia. The plant is now operated by Muradel Pty Ltd, a joint venture company of Murdoch University, the University of Adelaide and SQC Pty Ltd.
We are also studying hydrocarbon and lipid production in Botryococcus braunii with a focus on maximising hydrocarbon productivity.
The production of ß-carotene using the alga Dunaliella salina is now commercialied and produuction occurs at the Cognis plant at Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia. Several processes for the production of astaxanthin using the green freshwater alga, Haematococcus pluvialis have also been developed and are being further optimised. We have a very large culture collection of both Dunaliella and Haematococcus species as well as other carotenoid-overproducing algae such as Chlorella fusca. Research on the production of carotenoids such as lutein is currently under way.
We are using Pulse Amplitude Modulated fluorometry (PAM) to study photosynthesis in marine phytoplankton, especially in chlorophyll c containing species. The aim is to develop better methods for using PAM fluorometry for measurements of primary production and the nutritional status of the algae. Some work has also been done on the relationship between in situ fluorometry and sattelite data on ocean colour.
Most sponges contain symbiotic organisms. My main interest is the photosynthetic symbionts: cyanobacteria, red algae, zooxanthellae and green algae. What is the role these symbiont play in the ecophysiology of the sponge and what role (if any) do they have in the production of secondary metabolites. In collaboration with Prof Roz Hinde (University of Sydney) we have studied two species of sponge in particular: Dysidea herbacea which contains the cyanobacterial symbiont, Oscillatoria spongeliae, and the symbiosis between the red alga Ceratodictyon spongiosum and the sponge Halichondria cymodoceae.