Algae 101—Best Writing of 2013: Part 1

The 2013 Algae Industry Magazine “Best Writing” series includes considerable ink intended to make millions think. Our popular Algae101 blogger, Mark Edwards has chosen deserving sources that advance our algae industry. The year 2013 produced many superb documents that describe a broad spectrum of R&D and value creation with algae and algae bioproducts.

The Algae Industry Magazine best writing series shares the precious ink from the best in our industry – elevating our thinking about how algae and algae bioproducts will shape our shared future.

Best 2013 Algae Science Book – Handbook of Microalgal Culture

The algae industry benefits from excellent descriptions of algae and its many bioproduct and environmental applications. The Handbook of Micro-Algal Culture: Applied Phycology and Biotechnology, 2nd. Ed., edited by Amos Richmond and Qiang Hu, deserves a place in every algae business and researchers library. The 37 chapters, authored by 70 of the world’s top algae scientists, cover the gamut of algae physiology, growth and commercialization.

The Handbook begins with an article that concisely summarizes the organism in a mere 15 pages. Robert Anderson describes the microalgae cell including its biochemical diversity and its ability to produce a wide array of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins. He covers methods of reproduction, algae ultrastructure and genomes. The highlight is the description of endosymbiosis that has been a major factor in the production of algae diversity. An understanding of endosymbiosis will enable new traits and compounds with high commercial value. Robert Anderson, from the University of Washington and Bigelow laboratory for Ocean sciences is also the author of Algae Culturing Techniques, which is available for free download from the Phycological Society.

Jerry Brand, Robert Anderson and David Nobles, Jr., authored an important article on the maintenance of microalgae in culture collections. Culture collections are valuable repositories of living cyanobacteria and microalgae. The culture collections distribute strains of known identity, provide information on their successful culturing and offer diverse services to the algae industry, research and educational communities. Culture collections provide valuable public service with bulk cultures, prepared culture media, kits of concentrated media stock solutions, genomic DNA, high resolution light microscope images of algae, strain the dedication services workshops and other training sessions, preservation’s of specific strains provided by a user at cost and consulting services. The authors make only light reference to the consternation about the survival of microalgae culture collections at the Algae Biomass Summit where they presented serious data that showed the demand for services are much higher than current funding enables the libraries to provide.

University of Texas Culture Collection

Handbook coauthor Qiang Hu authored an insightful article on the environmental effects of cell composition. Dr. Hu may be the world’s foremost expert on environmental and nutritional impacts on algae cell composition. This updated chapter from the 2003 Handbook incorporates his considerable additional research at Arizona State University on light, temperature and nutritional factors. Dr. Hu is among a few scientists in the algae industry that can show that biotechnological approaches to control cell composition may have more impact on algae growth than the PBRs used for growth. His multiphase cultivation strategy makes sense – match the biotechnology of cell cultivation to the photo bioreactor system of choice. Most algae producers tend to select the PBR first and the environmental control conditions second. Of course, hybrid production systems with closed and open components can enable sustained algae productivity.

Algae cell

Bill Barclay’s chapter on commercial production of microalgae via fermentation provides a focused summary of the advantages and challenges of fermentation. The chapter highlights include pictures of commercial DSM fermentation plants and informative graphics displaying the microbial oil, DHA production process.

Co-editor and algae sage Amos Richmond advanced his chapter from the prior handbook on the biological principles of mass cultivation of photoautotrophic microalgae. He covers the major limiting growth factor, photosynthetic active radiation, (PAR) in great detail, and discusses cultivation protocols that limit or optimize cell growth. He also examines the productivity implications of variations in cell density, growth rate, method of culture mixing, the optic path, light dark cycle frequency, growth inhibition, photosynthetic rates and light efficiency. Amos Richmond’s close association with Qiang Hu is apparent in the section on effective cell density on cellular ultrastructure and composition. Amos Richmond mentored Qiang Hu’s PhD research in Israel.

Part two of the handbook covers mass cultivation and processing of microalgae focusing on various production methods. Articles cover the strength and weaknesses of flat plate PBRs, variations of PBRs for mass production and downstream processing of cell mass in products. C. Megham Downes and Qiang Hu’s article on The First Principles Of Techno-Economic Analysis Of Algae Mass Culture is particularly valuable, and may be the best techno-economic article to date. They provide a concise framework that companies can apply to plan the economic production of algae and associated bioproducts.

The handbook, part three, covers commercial species of industrial production. It’s a privilege to read about Spirulina from Dr. Amha Belay, who probably knows more about growing spirulina than any other person in the world. Dr. Belay was the longtime CEO of Earthrise Nutraceuticals where his team grew 500 tons of spirulina a year. Dr. Belay authored his own superb book, with M. E. Gershwin, Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health. In chapter 17, Dr. Belay covers advances in mass production, processing and applications over the last 30 years. He discusses future developments including how to improve yield, develop additional beneficial components and reduce the cost of production.

Jin Liu and Qiang Hu discuss mass production of Chlorella using various methods including photoautotrophic, heterotrophic and mixatrophic cultures. The article highlight describes Chlorella’s unusual ability to absorb and assimilate carbon dioxide in nutrients from waste streams of gases and waters. They also describe how Chlorella can synthesize large amounts of lipids, which makes it a candidate for biofuels in bioremediation. Thankfully, the authors are clear that current Chlorella production systems and processes are neither cost-effective nor energy-efficient in producing biofuels or in bioremediation. Michael Borowitzka similarly elucidates Dunaliella and its biology, production and markets.

Makoto Watanabe and Yuuhiko Tanabe describe the biology and substantial industrial potential for Botryococcus braunii. The authors describe how Botryococcus produces high amounts of hydrocarbons in the cells and excretes them from the cells and accumulates them in its colony matrix. They position Botryococcus as the highest oil producing microalgae. This comprehensive article discusses the critical parameters in designing cultivation facilities, energy consumption estimations, combustion heat and CO2 emission used for lifecycle assessment and a table showing construction and operational costs of an oil-producing plant.

Spirulina, Chlorella and Botryococcus

Daniel Berrera and Stephen Mayfield wrote about high-value recombinant protein production and microalgae for human and animal health applications. They describe algae protein expression systems that compare the advantages and challenges of other platforms currently used to produce medicines, including plants and animals. The authors describe the methods and importance of genetic transformation of microalgae that improve target compound expression. They provide an excellent table listing bioassay microalgae derived recombinant proteins. The article emphasizes both the flexibility offered by algae for many types of proteins and the ability to grow these compounds inexpensively on a large scale.

Other articles in this section focus on the biology and commercial aspects of Haematococcus pluvialis, novel sulfated polysaccharides, hydrogen production, edible Nostoc and bioactive and novel chemicals from microalgae. Additional articles discuss molecular and cellular mechanism for the bit synthesis and accumulation in microalgae as well as a summary article on biofuels from microalgae by Maria Barbosa and René Wiffels. The two articles on algae for human and animal nutrition and microalgae for aquaculture by Wolfgang Becker are so exceptional they are reserved for a future Algae101 blog post.

Asher Brenner and Aharon Abeliovich address one of the major challenges human societies face, water purification. They describe how high rate oxidation ponds can exploit the high protein content of algae for fish and animal feed. The water purification article is far too short. I hope the authors consider a broader treatment of algae’s role in water bioremediation in the future.

Dr. Drora Kaplan’s article on absorption and adsorption of heavy metals by microalgae is very informative. Dr. Kaplan covers a broad array of metals and appropriately focuses on toxic heavy metals such as copper, nickel, cadmium, lead and mercury. Het article provides an excellent bibliography for companies that want to address potential applications of microalgae and heavy metal bioremediation.

The handbook concludes with an upbeat social impact article by Ian Jones and Daniel Harrison on the enhancement of marine productivity for climate stabilization and food security. They discuss the benefits and concerns associated with ocean fertilization. Their goal is a technological innovation that can sequester carbon from the atmosphere and increase the sustainable supply of Marine protein. The article’s highlight is the manner in which they address environmental risk, cost and social values. The authors advance the idea of fertilizing ocean areas adjacent to free range fish stocks that are close to human populations. They propose a carbon tax to provide the capital cost for nutrient delivery to the oceans.

The Handbook of Micro-Algal Culture offers the most comprehensive summary of algae growth and capabilities available today. The best algae scientists in the world provide a detailed look at the extraordinary organism at the foundation of the food chain. The Handbook gives readers an opportunity to learn from experts about how to cultivate and use algae in its many forms for a broad array of bioproducts and for social needs such as food, feed and cleaning the environment. The Handbook of Micro-Algal Culture deserves special positioning at the top of every algae library.

Next installment: Best 2013 Algae Practitioner Book – Algae Microfarms