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A Letter to Algae Researchers

March 9, 2012

Dear Algae Researchers and Enthusiasts,

As past president of the National Algae Association Mid-South Chapter and aquatic species consultant, I have spent a great deal of time with you in your quest for the holy grail of algal bioenergy. We all realized early on that mass production of algae fuels was going to take a lot longer than anticipated because of these three stumbling blocks;

1. Expensive, inconsistent production

2. Harvesting issues

3. Difficult extraction of oil from algae’s tough multi-layered cell wall

As time went on, a fourth issue one began to concern me. How to grow algae sustainably? Were future algae producers going to automatically reach for bags of fossil fertilizer when waste nutrient sources such as farm run-off and municipal wastewater went unnoticed? Were algae producers going to have an impact on the water table by pumping millions of gallons of water for surface production? Were algae producers going to blindly depend on coal-fired or nuclear energy to produce “bio”energy?

Granted, a few of you envisioned sustainable production from the beginning, but the majority of early adopters were headed straight down the unsustainable “business as usual” route. I began to bring sustainability up in conversations, in workshops, in presentations, and in my consulting work. This became my mantra.

Sustainable aquatic production isn’t an option, it’s a given!

There were many objections,”We can’t grow algae on wastewater, the bacterial loads kill off our production. We need clean water and a controlled environment. If we can’t circulate the water, we can’t distribute enough photons to all the algal cells equally. If we don’t supply artificial light at night, we can’t utilize enough CO2 from a coal-burning power plant to make it worthwhile…” and so on.

My response now is simply, “Then don’t. Grow duckweed instead. It’s robust enough to thrive on the dirtiest of wastewater and give you both amazing amounts of biomass and clean water in return.  You won’t need to spend money on million dollar per acre production systems or burn fossil energy on recirculating pumps or fancy LED lights at night.You won’t be joined at the hip with coal-burning power plants or other high cost land sites in search of CO2.  Ponds are simple and cheap to build. Harvesting duckweed is a piece of cake compared to algae and you’ll be harvesting a lot. Try 10-40 tons per acre per year! (dry weight)”

Duckweed holds the promise of bioenergy with its high starch content, but is also a high quality protein source for animals now, and even humans in the near future. Sustainable aquatic production for feed, food, fuel, and biofertilizer was right under our nose all along. We were just looking IN the pond and not ON the pond.


Tamra Fakhoorian

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 9, 2013 10:52 pm

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem. You are wonderful! Thanks!


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