Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Arizona (UA) have joined forces through ASU’s AzCATI facilities to expand algae biofuel research through the ARID Raceway open test bed site located in Tucson. Under the support of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB), both universities are working to create better strategies for algal production, cultivation, and harvesting methods to better determine the commercial marketability of algal biofuel.
The Arid Raceway Integrated Design (ARID) is an open pond designed with inexpensive, removable covers and better mixing strategies to improve light penetration and overall control. New methods for controlling contamination, climate effects, and invasive species are also being tested. ARID researchers seek to improve many of the processes of using photobioreactors which are often composed of more costly materials and can have lower harvesting yields. The southwest temperatures provide a perfect climate for algal production because the temperatures can fluctuate as much as 15 degrees Centigrade in a single day. The ARID system uses an innovative design that drops water into ponds of different depths during the course of the day, so the land surrounding the ponds acts as an insulator, exchanging heat to control water temperatures. Since it is not yet apparent whether open or closed systems provide the best environment for commercial algae cultivation, it seems judicious to continue ongoing algal life cycle analyses and research projects.
The NAABB is a biofuels consortium of universities, private industry representatives, and government labs searching for ways to commercialize algae biofuel. It was formed in 2009 in order to acquire funding from the Department of Energy’s Office of Biomass Program specifically for researching algae biofuel commercialization. The NAABB framework consists of a research program contained within a sustainability model and analysis program in algal biology, cultivation, harvesting/lipid extraction, fuel conversion and chemical coproducts. Algal organisms range from unicellular microalgae to macroalgal seaweeds. Of the approximately 50,000 species of algae, little is known about their abilities to amass lipids, which is an essential component to biofuel production. Identifying those species with the highest lipid count has been one of the main goals of NAABB.
The consortium’s ultimate goal is to better understand the algal biofuels process in a sustainable way. In a continued effort to understand the economic and market impacts, environmental effects, and energy requirements, the consortium is developing a variety of models and analyses used for the algae biofuels process. Ample research across a large network of universities and labs has already produced promising results. ASU and UA hope to continue providing this same kind of productive research through the ARID partnership.
Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks