THE POTENTIAL OF FRESHWATER MACROALGAE AS A BIOFUELS FEEDSTOCK AND THE INFLUENCE OF NUTRIENT AVAILABILITY ON FRESHWATER MACROALGAL BIOMASS PRODUCTION
University of Kansas
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
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Extensive efforts have been made to evaluate the potential of microalgae as a biofuel feedstock during the past 4-5 decades. However, filamentous freshwater macroalgae have numerous characteristics that favor their potential use as an alternative algal feedstock for biofuels production. Freshwater macroalgae exhibit high rates of areal productivity, and their tendency to form dense floating mats on the water surface imply significant reductions in harvesting and dewater costs compared to microalgae. In Chapter 1, I reviewed the published literature on the elemental composition and energy content of five genera of freshwater macroalgae. This review suggested that freshwater macroalgae compare favorably with traditional bio-based energy sources, including terrestrial residues, wood, and coal. In addition, I performed a semi-continuous culture experiment using the common Chlorophyte genus Oedogonium to investigate whether nutrient availability can influence its higher heating value (HHV), productivity, and proximate analysis. The experimental study suggested that the most nutrient-limited growth conditions resulted in a significant increase in the HHV of the Oedogonium biomass (14.4 MJ/kg to 16.1 MJ/kg). Although there was no significant difference in productivity between the treatments, the average dry weight productivity of Oedogonium (3.37 g/m2/day) was found to be much higher than is achievable with common terrestrial plant crops. Although filamentous freshwater macroalgae, therefore, have significant potential as a renewable source of bioenergy, the ultimate success of freshwater macroalgae as a biofuel feedstock will depend upon the ability to produce biomass at the commercial-scale in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. Aquatic ecology can play an important role to achieve the scale-up of algal crop production by informing the supply rates of nutrients to the cultivation systems, and by helping to create adaptive production systems that are resilient to environmental change. In Chapter 2, I performed a review and an analysis of data from the published literature on the large-cultivation of freshwater macroalgae. This study revealed that the large-scale cultivation of freshwater macroalgae is feasible at relatively low cost using currently available technologies such as the Algal Turf Scrubber system (ATS). In addition, graphical analyses of published data obtained from ATS systems of varying sizes in operation worldwide revealed that both macroalgal biomass productivity and nutrient removal rates are hyperbolically related to the areal loading rates of both total nitrogen and total phosphorus. An assessment of the limited existing literature on carbon dioxide amendments suggested that the effectiveness and need for CO2 supplementation of macroalgal production systems like the ATS has not yet been conclusively demonstrated. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that filamentous freshwater macroalgae have great potential as a feedstock for both liquid and solid fuels, especially if nutrient-rich wastewater can be used as the supply of water and mineral nutrients. In addition, this thesis highlights the importance of studying the algal cultivation conditions that influence trade-offs between nutrient loading, biomass productivity, and biomass energy content. In particular, the hyperbolic relationship between algal biomass productivity and the areal loading rates of both total nitrogen and total phosphorus should provide critical insight when considering the production costs of macroalgal biomass at the commercial-scale.
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