Having a better understanding about algal biology and how to scale up algal biofuels production from cells and populations to large reactors will help us grow the bio-algae industry that has recently begun in the desert Southwest. We will investigate three overarching questions:
Can inexpensive, scalable, closed bioreactor designs maximize biomass productivities with heat tolerant algae in summer and cold-tolerant strains in winter with minimal water consumption and cultivation costs while achieving a net positive energy balance?
What species/community characteristics and cultivation conditions best promote stable, reproducible, large-scale production of algal biomass and also harmonize with (i) design specifications for algal cultivation, (ii) extraction and conversion processes for high-, mid- and low-value products and (iii) QA/QC specifications for fuels and co-products?
Can wastewater sources safely offset nutrient requirements at large scales, and how do associated scale up logistics, reactor design and operation affect output water quality to meet process recycling and discharge requirements?
The innovative technologies that result from NM EPSCoR investments and research will overcome the challenges of developing algal biomass in a desert environment where fresh water is precious. Our goal is to make the use of algal biomass a sustainable, economically viable component of a renewable energy portfolio in New Mexico.
In addition to building new facilities for growing and processing algae, we will collaborate with industry and national laboratories to provide interdisciplinary training for undergraduate and graduate students so they can continue and expand this research field.