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Utah State’s Research on Biofuel Potential of Microalgae

This week Utah State University’s Jeffery M. Moody, Christopher M. McGinty and Jason C. Quinn published their research, Global evolution of biofuel potential for microalgae, in the online Early Edition of ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’.

USU  Quinn, Moody and McGinty

From left, Utah State University researchers Jason Quinn, Jeff Moody and Chris McGinty.

Moody, McGinty and Quinn’s research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy to leverage a large-scale, outdoor microalgae growth model. These USU researchers used meteorological data from 4,388 global locations to find the global productivity potential of microalgae. Previous to this research, resource assessments of microalgae based biofuel production systems were taken from laboratory-scale data.

Moody, McGinty, and Quinn’s research included biological effects, geographical location and cultivation agriculture to assess lipid and biomass productivity potential of microalgae cultivated in a traditional closed-system photobioreactor.

Solix Photobioreactor

At a pilot plant facility at Coyote Gulch outside Durango, Colo., microalgae is grown for biofuel production. Photo credit Solix BioSystems.

These USU researchers drew conclusions on two fronts:

  • Global Productivity Potential and Variability Closed photobioreactor systems represents a promising production system compared to open raceway pond based on increased stability and improved volumetric productivity from extended surface area and a short light path. Moderate climate diversity aided by closed-systems allows for less infrastructure changes throughout the year. A change in temperature in any direction causes a negative impact on biomass and lipid productivity.
  • Scalability – When water, nutrients and CO2 are not limiting, significant fractions of the transportation fuel requirements can be met by algae. In their research, on a conservative level, algae yielded 2,500 gallons of biofuel per acre per year in contrast to corn (435 gallons) and soybeans (66 gallons). They conclude Brazil, Canada, China, and the U.S. could produce enough algae biofuel to supplement more than 30 percent of those countries’ fuel consumption.

“Our findings will help to justify the investment in technology development and infrastructure to make algal biofuel a viable fuel source,” said Moody.


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