A new initiative called Proterro, intends to produce ultra-cheap sugar by using photosynthetic microorganisms. Proterro raised $3.5 million in a financing round in addition to the previous $5 million.
The photosynthetic cyanobacteria has been engineered to secrete sucrose continuously. Proterro showed lab results from tests that, if scaled up, will produce sugar as cheap as 5 cents a pound.
In addition, the company claims that if the technology is implemented on a large scale, the production could easily increase up to 10 times more sugar per acre than sugarcane. Proterro also hopes that additional engineering and modification of the bacteria could bring the number up to 30 times more.
Using photosynthetic organisms to produce biofuels is not an invention. Other companies that do this however use algae to make oil. The limitations here are, on one hand, processing this oil could be very ineffective and expensive, and on the other hand, the equipment, containers and pumps that are used for growing algae add additional cost to the process.
By reducing the amount of water needed for growing the cyanobacteria, Proterro is trying to bring down the cost. They do this by using a specially designed transparent photobioreactor, where bacteria can be grown and harvested. The container has a fabric, which is kept wet at all times with just enough water and nutrients to sustain the microorganisms.
The only disadvantage, and something that Proterro is now trying to tackle, is the fact that by creating perfect conditions for growing the cyanobacteria, the container also provides ideal environment for competing microorganisms. Nevertheless, enough sugar is produced even then.
Mila is a researcher and scientist with a great passion for soils, rocks, plants, water and all environment-related aspects of our surroundings. For the past 10 years, during the course of her educational and professional development, she travelled all over Europe, Africa and Asia, driven by her passion for the environment and urge to seek challenges.