But that dream has not been realized, largely due to multiple problems that arise when you move a single-species, or monoculture, algal system from the laboratory to a pond. In the great outdoors, erratic weather, the invasion of unwanted algae species, and the presence of voracious algae-eating microorganisms can wipe out the "crop."
In addition, growing a single species of algae in a pond requires huge amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer, much of which ends up as pollution after the crop is harvested. Add in the pesticides and herbicides needed to control intruders and you have a costly system with significant environmental impacts.
The U-M-led "biodiversity and biofuels" project aims to increase the productivity and stability of algae-based biofuel systems while reducing environmental impacts by recycling wastes and cutting the need for biocides. The end result should be a more sustainable system that is cheaper to operate.
"Rather than engineering a super-species of algae and fighting with nature to maintain it as a pure monoculture through the use of pesticides and herbicides, we propose to cooperate with nature by identifying algal communities that naturally exhibit high biofuel potential and the desired stability through time," said U-M chemical engineer Phillip Savage, one of three project co-leaders. The other two are U-M chemical engineer Nina Lin and evolutionary biologist Todd Oakley of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
In his laboratory in the basement of U-M's Dana Building, Cardinale has established cultures of 55 of the most common species of green algae found in North American lakes.
The focus is on multiple species that naturally co-occur because numerous studies have shown that diverse communities of plants (including green algae) exploit resources more fully and collectively produce more plant tissue than any sing
|Contact: Jim Erickson|
University of Michigan