Yantao Li receives 2024 President’s Award for Excellence in the Application of Science

June 4, 2024
Yantao Lee and Russell Hill at the 2024 UMCES graduation ceremony at IMET. Credit: Jill Jasuta.

Yantao Li, associate professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES), has received the annual President’s Award for Excellence in the Application of Science for his outstanding contributions and leadership in applying the best available science to guide managers and policy-makers in making the best decisions for communities.

"Dr. Li’s pioneering efforts in the scientific application of microalgae are crucial as we attempt to ameliorate the global impacts of rising carbon dioxide levels," said UMCES Interim President, Bill Dennison. "We are fortunate to have him and his outstanding research contributions as part of the UMCES community."

Based at the Institute of Marine Environmental Technology (IMET) in Baltimore, Li is an expert in microalgal biology and biotechnology. His microalgae research is resulting in the application of growing algae to create biofuels and other bioproducts. Microalgae can absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, which in turn can help reduce the impact of climate change. Indeed, the mass culture of microalgae can lead to the production of biofuels, so Li is investigating how to create such commercially valuable products.

To conduct this cutting-edge research, Li has partnered with various industrial entities, the U.S. Department of Energy, and an array of academic institutions. His research led to a patented method of producing a valuable pigment from microalgae and the formation of a biotech startup company, AlgaBT, geared towards carotenoid production; the company seeks to transform new ideas and discoveries into bioproducts for the nutraceutical, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and aquaculture markets.

Driven by a passion for research and teaching, Li maintains an active laboratory at IMET full of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who conduct research on the production of lipids to create products like carotenoids, which are organic pigments that give fruits and vegetables their color, and omega-3 fatty acids.

"Yantao is a generous and effective collaborator, engaged in important collaborations across IMET and UMCES," said Russell Hill, IMET Executive Director and Professor. "He leads us in major projects funded by the Department of Energy, ensuring that we achieve key milestones moving towards our goals of efficient, scalable carbon sequestration by microalgae."

Li received his bachelor of science degree from Nanjing University, P.R. China and his Ph.D. from the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. In 2012, he joined the UMCES faculty as an assistant professor at IMET.