Biofuels are a form of renewable energy derived from living matter, typically plants. The push for biofuels began in order to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere, as biofuels are essentially carbon neutral. The idea is the same amount of CO2 the plants took in to perform photosynthesis will then be released in the burning of the biofuels. Algae is an excellent source of biofuels because it grows quickly and is versatile in terms of the type of fuel it can produce. The two most common mechanisms for algae growth are heterotrophic or photoautotrophic. Heterotrophically grown algae uses an exogenous energy source, such as glucose, and uses the energy stored in it to perform cellular functions. Glucose also serves as a source of carbon and hydrogen, which are the primary elements found in lipids. In addition heterotrophic algae requires other nutrients for survival, such as water, vitamins, and inorganic ions. Algae grown photoautotrophically uses pigments in cellular photoreceptors to convert energy from light into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy source, and to produce glucose. It also requires water, vitamins, and inorganic ions like the heterotrophic algae does. Some algal species, such as Chlorella zofingiensis, can be grown both photoautotrophically and heterotrophically. This algae species will be the subject of our experiment.

Our experiment seeks to discover the most efficient way of growing algae to produce the highest amount of lipids. In addition to serving as a key component of cell and organelle membranes, lipids are a common form of high efficiency, long-term energy storage for living organisms, which is why lipids are extracted and processed to form biofuels. We propose growing one species of algae photoautotrophically by providing it with proper amounts of light but eliminating any glucose available. We will also grow the same species heterotrophically, with exogenous access to glucose, but eliminating all exposure to light sources. Finally, we will grow the same species mixotrophically with access to both glucose and light. Once the algae is grown, it will be harvested and analyzed for its lipid profile to determine which algae sample has the highest percent lipid content. We will also measure the percent biomass of each sample to determine which primary energy source leads to the greatest amount of total algal growth, percent organic material, and percent lipid content.

We predict the algae grown with access to both sunlight and exogenous glucose will produce both the highest lipid content and the highest percent of biomass.