1. Improving the Yield of Biodiesel from Microalgae and Other Lipids. 2. Studies of the Wax Ester Biosynthetic Pathway and Potential Biotechnological Application

Bradley D. Wahlen, Utah State University

This work made publicly available electronically on October 29, 2012.


The production of biofuels and oleochemicals from renewable sources offers an opportunity to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The work contained in this dissertation has focused on developing and improving methods for the production of biodiesel from non-traditional feedstocks and understanding biosynthetic pathways that result in the production of oleochemicals and fuels.

Pure vegetable oil can account for 70-80% of the total cost of biodiesel production. Many low-cost oils contain high amounts of free fatty acids, which are unsuitable for base-catalyzed transesterification. Herein an approach is described that efficiently accomplishes the simultaneous esterification and transesterification of both free fatty acids and triglycerides found in low-cost oils. The approach utilizes an acid catalyst and longer-chain alcohols to improve biodiesel yields from oils high in free fatty acids.

Microalgae are a promising biodiesel feedstock, due to its high lipid productivity iv and its ability to be cultivated using resources, land and water, unsuitable for agriculture. As part of this work, reaction conditions were optimized for the direct (or in situ) transesterification of algal biomass to biodiesel. This approach accomplishes the simultaneous extraction and conversion of the total lipids from microalgae and results in increased yields compared to extraction followed by conversion. The use of this process to effectively produce biodiesel from wet algal biomass is also discussed.

Wax esters are a class of oleochemicals that can be used for a wide range of applications in diverse industries. The chemical composition of native wax esters from the bacterium Marinobacter aquaeolei was determined. It was found that including small alcohols in the growth medium resulted in the in vivo formation of esters similar to biodiesel. All of the proteins involved in the wax ester biosynthetic pathway are not known. The cloning, purification, and characterization of a putative fatty aldehyde reductase from M. aquaeolei, believed to be involved in the production of wax esters, is reported. Finally, the expression of a ws/dgat (wax ester synthase) gene from M. aquaeolei in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 is discussed as an approach to producing biodiesel in vivo from sunlight and CO2.