Project Title: From the laboratory to the masses: considerations in scaling cultivation of marine microalgae as a bioenergy solution.
Supervisors: Prof. Peter Ralph (UTS:C3), Prof. John Raven (University of Dundee), Dr Milan Szabo (UTS:C3) and Dr Martin Schliep (UTS: C3)
PhD conferred: 2017
Are microalgae the answer to diminishing fuel reserves and climate change mitigation? Our current population explosion has resulted in an overwhelming demand for fossil fuels and food production leading to an accelerated rate of climate change. As a result, an alternative, sustainable resource for fuel is required as a mitigation measure. The current global biofuel infrastructure does just not ‘fit the bill’, with low yields and competition with the food production industry for arable land.
Microalgae are fast growing microorganisms that utilise the sun’s energy to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide yielding large quantities of materials that can be easily converted into biofuels and other valuable co-products. Compared to first and second-generation biofuels (wood, corn, sugarcane), microalgae can be grown on non-arable land, therefore not competing with food production. Previous methodology has focused on freshwater microalgae biofuel sources that rely on potable water which is itself an increasingly scarce commodity. Further research into marine species will relieve this pressure whilst taking advantage of Australia’s large coastline, abundance of non-arable land and its year-round ideal climatic conditions: making Australia an ideal location for large-scale cultivation of marine microalgae for sustainable biofuel production. Such advances in an Australian biofuel industry could provide an economic and environmental sustainable landscape for many years to come.
Under controlled laboratory conditions, we are able to optimize microalgal growth to produce yields that (after up scaling) can meet demands required for a sustainable biofuel industry, however; complications arise when we try to produce these results outdoors and/or a larger scale. This is because the environment that microalgae experience in the laboratory is very different compared with the complex, dynamic and unpredictable conditions outdoors. The inputs required for growth (such as nutrients, carbon addition) change when cultivated at larger –than-lab scale. We need to understand these conditions to strengthen the prospects of using microalgae to generate the sustainable fuels and valuable co-products of the future.
This project will use the biofuel candidate Nannochloropsis oculata to examine requirements for viable and sustainable scaling of marine microalgae cultivation as a biofuel feedstock. My research will focus upon understanding inputs required for growth along with examining the responseof growth in dynamic conditions.
Tamburic, B., Guruprasad, S., Radford, D. T., Szabó, M., Lilley, R. M., Larkum, A. W. D., … Ralph, P. J. (2014). The Effect of Diel Temperature and Light Cycles on the Growth of Nannochloropsis oculata in a Photobioreactor Matrix. PloS One, 9(1), e86047. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.008604