Florida ‘best site’ for algae cultivation

[USA] New research has evaluated a number of specific regions across the United States and concluded Florida is the best for algae production.

According to a statement, the 19 month long study involving scientists from NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) and Arizona State University (ASU) concluded that Florida’s humidity and lack of dramatic swings between hot and cold made it the best site for cultivating algae.

The researchers claim their findings could prove useful as the algae industry moves forward. Recent years have seen a great deal of research into the potential of algae as a feedstock for biofuel production, but one of the biggest obstacles has been cultivating algae on a sufficient scale.

“This data is extremely valuable to anyone interested in growing algae outdoors in different regions of the United States,” said Eric Knoshaug, a senior scientist in NREL’s National Bioenergy Center and co-author of the newly published paper, Unified Field Studies of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership as the Benchmark for Algae Agronomics.

For the study, the scientists established identical raceway-style ponds in five outdoor locations to cultivate and harvest three strains of algae across the four seasons. The testbed sites were in the Southwest desert, in Mesa, Arizona; the California coast, in San Luis Obispo; the inland Southeast, in Atlanta, Georgia; the Pacific tropics, in Kona, Hawaii; and the coastal Southeast, in Vero Beach, Florida.

Ponds holding about 1,000 litres of water were installed late in 2013. Harvesting operations started in mid-2014 and continued through the middle of the next year. The data, which ranged  from temperature and pH of the water to the amount of algae harvested and ambient weather conditions, were collected continuously. Knoshaug, along with Ed Wolfrum from NREL, then curated the data.

“Other researchers can take a look at this and use the data to quantify the effects of humidity, the effects of temperature, and the effects of light intensity because we kept all the variables we could constant,” said Wolfrum, a principal researcher in NREL’s Biosciences Center. “The only thing left is the geography and the environment.”

As well as highlighting Florida as the prime location to cultivate algae, the authors hope their research will others to make predictions on possible sites and to develop crop protection strategies.

The study has been published in Nature Scientific Data. Knoshaug and Wolfrum were joined by Valerie Harmon of Harmon Consulting Inc.; and Thomas A. Dempster and John McGowen from the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation at ASU.

 

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