Discipline: Biological Sciences
Subcategory: Plant Research
Alexander Goodwyn - Eastern Michigan University
Co-Author(s): Johnathan Henderson
Many lakes, ponds, and rivers in North America are overrun with nuisance, sometimes-toxic algae that bloom due to unnaturally high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. These nuisance algal blooms are often harmful to the both the ecology and economic value of aquatic environments. However, some have proposed these nuisance algal blooms might be harvested and used for production of biocrude oil – a proposition that would help improve the aquatic ecosystem while also providing the raw material needed to make algal biofuels. We tested the hypothesis that nuisance algae that form blooms in lakes and streams are a source of biocrude oil, with values that are comparable to leading cultures of algae that are presently used for biofuel research. To test this hypothesis, we collected many forms of nuisance algae from ponds and lakes in southeastern Michigan and used a process known as hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) to extract and quantify biocrude oil as a percentage of algal biomass. Our highest yielding species was a Cladaphora sample collected from Ford Lake giving a 18.5% BYC (Biocrude yield) and the lowest yield coming from a sample of Zygnema, collected from Eastern Michigan University, giving 7.6% BCY. Our study leads us to conclude that nuisance algae are much less efficient sources of biofuel than typical laboratory strains of algae used in biofuel research, suggesting that economically-viable use of nuisance algal blooms is unlikely to be feasible.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): This work was funded by a Research Experience and Mentoring (REM) supplement to grant 1332342 from NSF’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) Program. The supplement supported development of an undergraduate internship program co-run by Dr. Bradley Cardinale (University of Michigan) and Dr. Steve Francoeur (Eastern Michigan University).
Faculty Advisor: Bradley Cardinale,