Research & Resources: NMSU expands algae research with new photobioreactor

Spring 2012. Retrieved online July 18, 2012 by NMSU Staff, NMSU Research & Resources

The Solix BioSystems Lumian AGS4000 is a 4,000-liter photobioreactor system housed at the Fabian Garcia Research Center.

The Solix BioSystems Lumian AGS4000 is a 4,000-liter photobioreactor system housed at the Fabian Garcia Research Center.

The April installation of New Mexico State University’s new 4,000-liter photobioreactor system at the Fabian Garcia Research Center promises to accelerate the university’s emergence as a leader in algal biofuel research.

The Solix BioSystems Lumian AGS4000 is an algae-cultivation system that allows faster and denser production of algae than open “raceway” systems. Algae cultures grow in enclosed polyethlene panels suspended in an open 60-by-11-foot water-filled basin. Control of temperature, carbon dioxide content and nutrient supply is very precise and the panels are designed to optimize light capture driving photosynthesis.

“This results in a 10-to-30-fold improvement in volumetric growth rate,” said Peter Lammers, NMSU research professor and technical director of the university’s Algal Bioenergy Program. “Harvest algal cell densities from the AGS4000 can be six times higher than open raceway ponds.”

The Lumian AGS4000 will help researchers address many critical issues, including which varieties of saltwater algae thrive in Southern New Mexico; how to optimize algae lipid content; possible use of industrial carbon dioxide, brackish water and nutrients derived from municipal and/or agricultural waste; how best to extract the lipid content of the algae and refine it into fuel; and how to improve the economic viability of the production process.

“The economics of algae-derived fuel will be very difficult without generating revenue from every portion of the algae biomass,” Lammers said. NMSU researchers are working on the development of algal co-products such as high-protein animal or fish meal and fish-oil replacements.

Among the researchers in four NMSU colleges whose work is being supported by the new system are Wiebke J. Boeing, Shanna Ivey, Tanner Schaub and Adrian Unc in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Meghan Downes in the College of Business; Wayne Van Voorhies in the College of Arts and Sciences; and Shuguang Deng and Nirmala Khandan in the College of Engineering.

“The testbed team completed experiments during the summer/fall period that resulted in a two-fold improvement in the growth rate of our target algae through changes in the timing of nutrient delivery,” Lammers said. “Detailed biochemical information was captured that identifies the changing oil, protein and carbohydrate composition of algae biomass during the growth cycle. That information is being used by the techno-economic team to support harvest schedules that maximize the value of oil and co-products.”

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