Microalgae: renewable biofuel source with no need for fresh water. Just give them our wastewater.

Last week, I presented illustrations for yeast and a microalgal species of Chlamydomonas. Today I will expound on part of this. Ongoing research is working to identify ways to circumvent the need for fresh water, a precious commodity, and costly fertilizer to cultivate microalgae for biofuel production. These microorganisms are a rich source of oils that can be integrated into our national fuel infrastructure. However, growing the amount of microalgae necessary to decrease our need for petroleum based fuel relies on a precious and ever deminishing resource, fresh water. Also needed are nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, usually in the form of fertilizer.

Microalgae are adaptable to environmental changes. Recent research shows several microalgal species that can be cultivated with no need for freshwater. Instead, these species, Chlamydomonas globosaChlorella minutissima and Scenedesmus bijuga, are grown in something we have plenty of; wastewater.

illustrated bacteria, microbiology, microalgae
Illustration of Chlamydomonas globosa
illustrated bacteria, microbiology, microalgae
Illustration of Scenedesmus bijuga
illustrated bacteria, microbiology, microalgae
Illustration of Chlorella minutissima

These microalgae are able to generate energy and grow with no input of fresh, potable water or fertilizers. The ‘nutrients’ needed are all available within the wastewater. By wastewater I am referring to myriad kinds of used water predominantly from industry like the production of carpets or other products and from livestock litter. Usually, microalgae can be viewed similar to plants with respect to their carbon utilization. Algae can breathe in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into carbohydrates and fatty acids (oils), thus releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. They have been doing this for over 3.5 billion years and are the primary reason other life, including humans, are alive today. However, microalgae can also use different metabolic strategies to incorporate carbon. Also, these organisms can utilize both carbon dioxide and organic carbon compounds simultaneously (called mixotrophy).

This research is only the beginning. As these investigations progress, many other organisms can be identified that can lower our dependence on fossil fuels.

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9 thoughts on “Microalgae: renewable biofuel source with no need for fresh water. Just give them our wastewater.”

  1. Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… I so hope that microalgal cultivation will become a routine part of our world. This is a topic I’ve blogged about under my ‘algae’ tag. The technology isn’t cost-effective yet, but perhaps it will be.

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