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Resources necessary to grow algae sustainably include non-arable land, non-potable water, waste nutrient streams, waste carbon dioxide, sufficient sunlight, and supporting infrastructure to access downstream processing operations. Development of an algal biofuel industry requires scaling up to use a significant amount of these resources. The Advanced Algal Systems Program coordinates with the Analysis and Sustainability Programs to do the following:
- Identify potential geographic locations for algae farms based on resource access and availability
- Estimate the costs for current and future resources
- Assess the environmental sustainability of the use of these resources.
Algal biomass includes microalgae and macroalgae, as well as cyanobacteria. Algal biomass development focuses on identifying or improving on those properties, such as a fast growth rate and high oil content, that make algae attractive to convert into biofuels. Advanced Algal Systems R&D activities include searching for new strains out in the wild as well as investigating potential biological improvements from breeding and genetic engineering. Systems biology approaches to improve advantageous traits for production are also part of biomass development.
The fundamental components (lipids, starches, and proteins) of algae vary greatly among strains and in comparison to plants. However, standard procedures to reliably quantify these components are not readily available. It is critical to understand the biomass characteristics of algae at different times in the growth cycle in order to develop cultivation management strategies, downstream processes, and final products. The Advanced Algal Systems Program is funding work to standardize laboratory methodologies and learn more about algae components.
R&D funded by the Advanced Algal Systems Program focuses on a variety of algae cultivation systems that include, but are not limited to, open ponds, attached growth systems, and closed photobioreactors. Cultivation systems must minimize resource use and costs while maximizing productivity. Cultivation strategies include crop protection, water and nutrient management, ecosystem design, light optimization, temperature management, and seasonal succession.