Spotlight on a Student: Érico de Godois Baroni

Investigation into the role of extracellular substances and intrinsic cell characteristics on the harvesting and processing of microalgal suspensions

Erico dGB

Érico de Godois Baroni recently completed his PhD in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Melbourne.

His research looked at the natural and engineered variations in the physical, biochemical and biological characteristics of algal cells, how these impact on the production of renewable fuels, pharmaceuticals and in water treatment, and the strategies to improve processing efficiency across these areas.

He hopes to work on projects where he can apply his multidisciplinary expertise to aid our community in developing sustainable solutions in the energy, pharmaceutical, water or carbon capture industries.

We interviewed Érico on his research, and his plans for the future.

What is your research about?


Microalgae are extremely useful microorganisms that can capture atmospheric carbon and a range of dissolved organic pollutants. Simultaneously, microalgae produce various intracellular building blocks that can be used in the bioenergy and pharmaceutical industries, or even be directly applied in water/wastewater processing facilities. Their biophysical and biochemical characteristics (size, density, morphology, intracellular products, extracellular material released) are dynamically regulated by environmental and engineering conditions. As such, energy and processing efficiency are directly linked to these intrinsic characteristics and the changes that happen during the growth cycle.

My research aimed to evaluate the natural and engineered changes that happen in algal cells; develop methodologies to assess variation on the cellular native state; and apply this information to improve energy and processing efficiency.

The innovation of the research is the integrated approach to evaluating, analysing and strategising processing through highly sensitive experimentation and accurate mathematical modelling. Cultivation, harvesting and extraction of intracellular products were performed and assessed in a horizontal approach that combined the whole process involved in using microalgae as industrial feedstocks for biofuels and pharmaceuticals.

Some of the outcomes of my research include developing a model that accurately described the biophysical behaviour of the cell population in terms of solid-liquid separation processes, identification of the extracellular compounds released by the cells that hamper efficiency, development of strategies to lower energy and resources demand, and optimisation of processing design to maximise the production of industrial goods from these highly complex biological systems.

Who are your supervisors?


I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to do my PhD under the guidance of A/Prof. Greg Martin (Algal Processing Group), Prof. Peter Scales (Particulate Fluid Processing Centre) and Prof. Paul Webley (CRC Carbon Capture & Melbourne Energy Institute).

What do you want to do next?


I would like to continue working on improving energy and processing efficiency in the biotechnology industry either in industry, government or as a researcher. Ideally, I would like to get involved with projects that aid our community in developing sustainable solutions for complex, multidisciplinary problems.

Have you received any awards?

I was a recipient of the Melbourne Research Scholarship award in 2015.

Further information

Érico and his supervisors warmly welcome any enquiries about his research. You can email him at ericod@student.unimelb.edu.au.

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