Biodiversity is Key to Growing Stable Algal Biofuel, New Study Shows

The researchers found that a diverse mix of algal species performed better than any single species.


Researchers from the University of Michigan have confirmed that the key to improving the performance of algal biofuel systems is through biodiversity. The team grew varying combinations of freshwater algal species in 80 artificial ponds at the university’s research facility at George Reserve. This is the first large-scale experiment to study the connection between biodiversity and algal biofuel stability. The researchers found that a diverse mix of algal species performed better than any single species.

Source: University of Michigan

However, the researchers found that diversity does not necessarily result in more biomass or algal mass, and that monoculture produced larger biomass results in most cases.

“The results are key for the design of sustainable biofuel systems because they show that while a monoculture may be the optimal choice for maximizing short-term algae production, polycultures offer a more stable crop over longer periods of time,” said study lead author Casey Godwin, a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

Source: YouTube, University of Michigan

After a 10-week study, the researchers compared the ability of the algae and the algal combinations to multitask: They had to grow lots of algal biomass, to yield high-quality biocrude, to remain stable through time, to resist population crashes as well as to fight off invasions by unwanted algal species.

Source: University of Michigan

Monoculture algae were able to perform very well in one or two tasks. However, the combined algae species were better at a range of tasks.

“Our findings suggest there is a fundamental trade-off when growing algal biofuel,” said Cardinale, a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. “You can grow single-species crops that produce large amounts of biomass but are unstable and produce less biocrude. Or, if you are willing to give up some yield, you can use mixtures of species to produce a biofuel system that is more stable through time, more resistant to pest species, and which yields more biocrude oil.”

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University of Michigan

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Biodiversity is Key to Growing Stable Algal Biofuel, New Study Shows

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