February 20: Meeting with Dr. Tae Jin Kim (Chemical Engineering Department, Stony Brook University)
The group researched potential renewable biofuel products and decided to meet with Dr. Tae Jin Kim, an expert at Stony Brook University’s Chemical Engineering department early on in their project development. They learned about the current state of biofuels and synthetic biology. They met with Dr. Kim, who explained the difficulty in converting lignocellulose, a form of plant-derived sugar, to usable fuels. From the meeting, we learned that it is difficult because of the chemical composition of diesel and gasoline and the long chemical pathways involved in producing them. According to Dr. Kim, decades of research and funding from the Department of Energy has already gone into biofuel production. However, Dr. Kim saw some potential in engineered enzymes, which he thought may have potential to overcome some issues, especially with algae as possible next-generation feedstock. Though originally we planned on focusing on the fermentation process and form lipid biodiesel, this discussion led us to pursue algae and other photosynthetic chassis. We also decided to focus on producing products that have far less complex synthesis pathways, thereby allowing us to focus on the production of feedstock. We also learned that some companies, such as Joule Unlimited, Algenol, HelioBioSys, and Proterro, attempted to work with algae-based biofuel but had become bankrupt. From what we learned in scientific literature on algae-based biofuels, we started to reach out to and investigate these companies, so that we could identify any faults in the system and learn what issues we could attempt to solve.