Student Proposal for Microbiology Final: Microalgae for Biofuel Production

Marine Microalgae for Biofuel Production: Implementation, Issues and Benefits
Author: Megan Lorino. May 25, 2019 

 Microalgae for use in biofuel production is a complex concept that is still being studied by the scientific community to find the best possible usage and means of production, both in cost and environmental sustainability. Algae contains twice as much protein as meat, can help end deforestation as it could replace soy protein in livestock feed, could improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gases, and can be used to clean industrial wastewater preventing harmful runoffs as it can even grow in polluted water (Medium, 2017). The technology and the biology needed to produce livestock feed made of microalgae exist, it’s just the process of developing an economically sustainable price-range for production.

Algae has been mentioned frequently in recent environmental news topics. It is often seen as environmentally toxic and damaging. It is important to understand the difference in microalgae species regarding those which do not produce harmful side effects [to the environment, wildlife, or humans] and those which may cause harmful algal blooms, such as the toxin-producing Ostreopsis (Gallitelli, Unagro, Addante, 2005), which is less than one percent of all algal blooms (NOAA, 2018) . The potential use of non-harmful algae in biofuel production comes with many challenges, but there is quite a bit of research that proves it could be a worthwhile change in comparison to fossil fuel usage. One major concern is that algae will never be able to meet the increasing demand for liquid fuel in the United States (Dietz, 2017). The greatest challenge we still face is finding a renewable energy source and create an industry that will operate sustainably, and can also be cost competitive with existing energy sources (Hannon, Gimpel, Tran, Rasala, Mayfield, 2010).

An article from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute laid out the concept of algal farms adjoining the sea. They stated that marine microalgae could be grown in areas that avoid land competition, and the use of freshwater would not be required in the growth of marine microalgae, which is an expensive source that is becoming more scarce (Dietz, 2017). Algae is a renewable energy source that is an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels. Researchers in Koana, Hawaii have demonstrated that algae uses photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into vital oils and biomass, which then produces Omega-3 fatty acids, animal feed and biofuels. Chuck Greene of Cornell University developed a design which shows that algal farms could be used for more than just energy, but also for sustainable fish farming (Dietz, 2017).

Researchers have developed a process called Combined Algal Processing (CAP). This method hydrolyzes the carbohydrates to monomeric sugars by using sulfuric acid and elevated temperatures. These researchers have proposed that corn, cane, and cellulosic sugars can be substituted by these microalgal sugars (Pienkos, PhD., 2018). Dr. Martin Gross of Gross-Wen Technologies has developed an algal farming method that involves vertically oriented conveyor belts that slowly rotate into wastewater containing nitrogen and phosphorus, which the algae needs to grow. The conveyor belt method allows the algae to receive the water, CO2, and sunlight needed to grow as it passes in and out of the water (Hammerich, T., 2018). For any algae farm, water and nutrients must be available at lower costs and farm worker costs at reasonable rates in order to keep operation and production costs at a minimum (Clifford, n.d.).

The growing conditions and larger size of macroalgae makes them more difficult to cultivate in a controlled environment (Walker, 2013). Microalgae is not yet economically viable to produce on a larger scale as it is simply too expensive to switch the world’s livestock feed from the current soy-based feeds being used, to a feed using microalgae instead. Scientists are still working on ways to gradually implement a cost-effective method of producing animal feeds with microalgae (Medium, 2017). Open and closed pond designs are both possible, and offer variations in sizes, CO2 utilization, evaporation losses, cell density, energy consumption, among many others. Closed pond systems offer much better control and therefore higher productivity, but come at a much higher cost (Clifford, n.d.).

In 2005, Ocean Nutrition Canada was working on a project screening marine algae samples and discovered a single-celled microorganism producing triacylglycerol oil in substantial quantities in one of the samples – this oil is a base for biofuels (Brenhouse, 2010). Petroleum is derived from ancient algae deposits but is a limited resource which will either run out or become too expensive to continue using (Hannon, Gimpel, Tran, Rasala, Mayfield, 2010). Coal usage results in harmful waste in the environment, acid rain, disruption of wildlife, and aside from the dangerous effects, there are limited stocks of coal remaining and this source will soon be depleted (Fossil Fuel, 2019). Certain species of microalgae can be a suitable alternative for next generation biofuels due to their high amounts of oil and fast growth rate. Using modern technology, these oils can be extracted and refined into transportation fuels (Gouveia, Oliveira, 2009). Microalgae use far less water and do not displace food crop cultures, as mentioned from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, algae farms would not need freshwater and would be placed along the sea. Marine microalgae, Nannochloropsis, proved to be a sustainable source of raw materials for biofuel production (Gouveia, Oliveira, 2009).

 

References

Medium. (2017). How algae could help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. https://medium.com/space10/how-algae-could-help-solve-some-of-the-worlds-biggest-problems-1fa7774a16b1

Dietz, E. (2017). Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Marine Microalgae: The Future of Sustainable Biofuel. https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/marine-microalgae-the-future-of-sustainable-biofuel

Hannon, M., Gimpel, J., Tran, M., Rasala, B., Mayfield, S. (2010). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Biofuels from algae: challenges and potential. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3152439/

Fossil Fuel. The Disadvantages of Coal. (2019). https://fossil-fuel.co.uk/coal/the-disadvantages-of-coal

Gouveia, L., Oliveira, A.C. (2009). SpringerLink. Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology. Microalgae as a raw material for biofuels production. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10295-008-0495-6

Gallitelli, M, MD., Unagro, N, BD., Addante, L.M. MD. (2005). Respiratory Illness as a Reaction to Tropical Algal Blooms Occurring in a Temperate Climate. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/200989

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2018). Are all algal blooms harmful? https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/habharm.html

Brenhouse, H. (2010). The New York Times. Canada Produces Strain of Algae for Fuel. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/business/energy-environment/30iht-renalg.html

Walker, K. (2013). AZO CleanTech. What are Algae Farms? https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=448

Pienkos, P.T. PhD. (2018). R&D. New Algae Biofuel Production Method Could Someday Compete With Petroleum. https://www.rdmag.com/article/2018/06/new-algae-biofuel-production-method-could-someday-compete-petroleum

Hammerich, T. (2018). Medium. Future of Agriculture. Algae Farming. https://futureofag.com/algae-farming-f0fb3782d8ff

Clifford, C.B. (n.d.). Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. 10.4 Design of Algae Farms. https://www.e-education.psu.edu/egee439/node/695

Overfishing, CPUE, and Commercially Extinct Species. 

Overfishing, CPUE, and Commercially Extinct Species. 
February, 17, 2019. By Megan Lorino

University of Port Elizabeth published an article in 1981 on the topic of catch per unit effort using gill-nets in the Sundays River estuary of South Africa. Their data was obtained from 55 catches using gill-nets. Nets were positioned in lower, middle, and upper reaches of the estuary. Each site was selected with avoidance of boat traffic in mind. Measurements were taken of salinity as well as (surface) water temperature of each site. CPUE was recorder for each caught species on a monthly basis and always included number per species as well as weight of each given species.

The most abundantly caught species was the sea catfish Tachysurus feliceps which totaled 226 individual fish, followed by the flathead mullet Mugil cephalus with a total of 191 individual fish, the souther mullet Liza richardsoni with a total of 185 individual fish, and the kob Argyrosomus hololepidotus with a total of 175 individual fish. The Argyrosomus hololepidotus (kob) was the  dominant catch in terms of weight, weighing 315kg, followed by the spotted grunter Pomadasys commersonni weighing 165kg. This particular study was to evaluate the abundance of varying species within the communities of the Eastern Cape estuaries. Gill-nets were set up between 1976 and 1979. 1,258 total fish were caught during this study. The CPUE (catch per unit effort) was 21kg/standard net.

 

References
Marais, J. (1981) African Journals Online. African Zoology. Seasonal abundance, distribution, and catch per unit effort using gill-nets, of fishes in the Sundays estuary. Retrieved from https://www.ajol.info/index.php/az/article/view/152270/141866

 

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Commercial extinction (of fish) is determined when a particular species of fish has become too rare to be caught for profit any longer. This occurs after a process of depletion – the reduction of that particular species due to overfishing. Recovery from overfishing causing an oceanic fishery to collapse can be combatted in several ways. One way is to create stronger regulations and plans of action toward illegal fishing in order to give stocks a chance to recover. More aggressive fisheries management, the increased use of aquaculture, and better law enforcement of catch-governing laws could all help to reduce overfishing and restore populations. Illegal fishing and unsustainable harvesting of fish is still one of the biggest issues causing overfishing that needs to be managed more diligently in order to really save our fish populations and truly reduce overfishing.

 

References
Doyle, A. (2015) Reuters. Ocean fish numbers on ‘brink of collapse’: WWF. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-oceans/ocean-fish-numbers-on-brink-of-collapse-wwf-idUSKCN0RG1JW20150916

National Geographic (2010) Overfishing. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/oceans/critical-issues-overfishing/

Dredge Fisheries Analysis

Dredge Fisheries Analysis by Megan Lorino.
February, 7, 2019.

Dredge fishing involves dragging a dredge across the sea floor in order to collect targeted fish species. There are many targeted species for dredge fishing practices including clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, conch, and crabs. There is a known risk of significant amounts of bycatch – the undesired catch of species other than those being targeted. There is also a great risk of harming other marine life with dredge fishing, one of the most harmed marine species being sea turtles. While the dredges are being pulled along the sea floor turtles are often crushed or captured in collection bags. Many other marine animals endure this risk including whales and dolphins, which may become entangled by the tow lines.

There are two types of dredges, scraping dredges and penetrating dredges. The scraping dredges have teeth or sharp bars that dig into the bottom of the sediment in order to pick up and collect marine animals which live on the sea floor. Penetrating dredges, which are also called hydraulic dredges, shoot jets of water into the sea floor in order to chase out the animals which live deeper in the sea floor out into collection bags. Dredges can weigh 2,600 pounds or more. Dredges have actively been called the most damaging gear to bottom ocean habitats. When dredges are dragged along the sea floor they also kill many smaller species including snails and worms. Areas abundant in seagrass can be damaged by destruction of the grass roots. This negatively impacts species of fish and other marine animals that rely on seagrass for food supply, habitat and protection from predators.

Proper management of dredge fisheries can help reduce the habitat destruction, bycatch, and harm to marine species during dredge fishing. Using lighter weight dredges where possible can lower the risk of crushing marine animals. Protecting certain habitats to allow some areas to remain untouched from dredges can also help protect many species. Regulating the allowance or minimum size requirements between teeth or bars on dredges can allow smaller species to pass through and avoid becoming injured while the dredges pass through their habitats. Remaining areas that have not been disturbed by dredging should be protected.

Policy decisions should be based on science where it is often proved how damaging certain fishing methods are. It is the responsibility of fisheries managers to maintain ethical policies to protect our natural ecosystems and maintain appropriate regulations to help lessen the risks of harming marine species while capturing those for commercial use. Scientific method now addresses what types of impacts from fishery practices are considered most harmful. There is enough scientific evidence present day to consciously make an effort to manage fisheries while reducing the number of marine species being harmed or resulting in population declines. “The time has come for fishery managers and conservation organizations to add fishing selectively, avoiding habitat damage, and protecting marine biodiversity as important components in maintaining ocean ecosystems and healthy fisheries.” (MCBI, vi)

Resources
NOAA Fisheries. Fishing Gear: Dredges. Retrieved from https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/bycatch/fishing-gear-dredges

Safina Center. Fishing Gear 101: Dredges. Retrieved from http://safinacenter.org/2015/05/fishing-gear-101-dredges-the-bottom-scrapers/

MCBI Marine Conservation. Shifting Gears. Retrieved from https://mcbi.marine-conservation.org/publications/pub_pdfs/ShiftingGears.pdf