Science Market Update

Oregon State Research Lab Wins $2M NSF Award to Study Diatom Biosynthesis

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Fri, Aug 31, 2012

An Oregon State University research lab led by Gregory Rorrer has just been awarded a $2M NSF grant as part of the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program for Engineering projects. Of the 15 ENG/EFRI awards for 2012, 3 were in the category of Synthetic Biorefineries research: "the large-scale use of micro-organisms that harness solar energy to produce chemicals and fuels from carbon dioxide." Rorrer's lab will study diatom photosynthesis as a means of creating biofuel, as well as two other bioengineered products. Diatoms are a type of algae with a unique biosynthetic ability to extract silicate from the ocean to create cell walls of nanostructured silica. According to the grant proposal, the OSU team will identify cellular processes and cultivation strategies towards the design of scalable systems for a future diatom-based photosynthetic biorefinery.

Dr. Rorrer is a chemical engineer in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering (CBEE) at Oregon State; he is also School Head. OSU's chemical engineering department has a long, illustrious history. In 2007 OSU established the more diversified CBEE school (in the College of Engineering) to position itself for a future in which biochemistry and engineering overlap in areas like environmental control, waste minimization, and of course biofuels. The Dept. of Chemistry is still its own entity in the College of Science, but faculty collaborate on projects like this one. (In another recent blog we noted that other departments of chemistry and engineering are also broadening their scope to include a stronger bioscience component.) Rorrer's co-investigators on this research project are:

  • J. Antonio Torres, chemical engineer and food science technologist
  • Christine Kelly, chemical engineer who works on biofuels and waste matter
  • Bettye Maddux, Chemistry Dept. faculty and Managing Director of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (CSMC)
  • Debra Gale, member of Rorrer's research lab

osu research lab

[Greg Rorrer in his lab, courtesy of OSU and the Rorrer Lab page]

The other two winners of the ENG/EFRI Photosynthetic Biorefineries awards are from TAMUCornell and UW-Madison, with these projects:

  • “Microalgae Lab-on-Chip Photobioreactor Platform for Genetic Screening and Metabolic Analysis Leading to Scalable Biofuel Production” ($2M) led by TAMU Professor Arum Han of the NanoBio Systems Lab, with co-investigators from TAMU and Cornell University
  • “Cyanobacterial Biorefineries” ($2M) led by chemical and biological engineer Brian Pfleger and co-investigators from the University of Wisconsin, Madison


Biotechnology Calendar Inc. will be on the OSU campus in Corvallis on September 12, 2012 to host our 7th Annual BioResearch Product Faire event. For research funding data on OSU and information on the September tradeshow, click the button below:

science research building


BCI also holds life science tradeshow events at TAMU, Cornell, and UW on these dates:




Tags: Oregon State University, Northwest, biofuels, women in science, Texas A&M University, Oregon, 2012, University of Wisconsin Madison, Biochemistry, Front Line event, OR, NSF, Corvalis, ORSTU

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