Algae Testbeds in support of the Food, Energy and Water Nexus

J.A. McGowen
Arizona State University,
United States

Keywords: algae, energy, bioproducts, food water energy systems


Renewable liquid fuels from biomass and long-term food security are interdependent and critical national and global security concerns. The scales of the food and fuel enterprises are both immense, creating significant pressure on limited land, energy and nutrient resources. Algae cultivation and wet biomass processing methods developed with BETO support have unique potential to supply pigments and anti-oxidants, omega-3 nutritional oils and bulk protein for animal and fish feeds while recycling carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus found agricultural and municipal waste streams with a positive energy return. The ATP3 consortium, funded by the Department of Energy, and led by Arizona State University, was set up with the goal of integrating production systems with feedstock characteristics and ultimately relating this to technical targets around biofuels and bioproducts. ATP3 testbeds provide reliable data for technology assessments and decision support for BETO’s Advanced Algal Systems platform. Those assessments depend on predictive and validated quantitative models covering techno-economics, life-cycle and resource assessments for algae cultivation and processing pathways for multiple products. Validating these models requires ongoing publically available data to assess: - multiple feedstocks and down-stream processing pathways - co-product potential to achieve competitive pricing for biofuels - diverse climates and climate change mitigation potential - regional variations in water quality and quantity, waste carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus availability - nutrient reclamation and recycling potentials The testbed facilities of the ATP3 network provide a large volumetric capacity for algae cultivation associated with flexibility in cultivation and processing technologies and includes within its network both commercial and academic testbed sites with raceway ponds and closed photobioreactors (PBR’s) and is anchored at Arizona State University’s Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI). Consortium partners provide a range of downstream processing options for harvesting, dewatering, and fractionation of algal biomass and the network of testbed sites is committed to open operations and equitable access of users as is exemplified through the support of collaborative work projects and educational programs. In addition, as algae operations progress from research to commercialization operations, a uniform language and common methodologies for characterization of process unit-operations is required. The ATP3 consortium is also committed to providing objective standards for data collection, management, quality control, and analysis in the establishment of a uniform language that defines standardized metrics for the discussion and dissemination of algal growth metrics and proximate compositional analyses. In this presentation, we will present an overview of the data and projects developed over the past 4 years where we have built a unique research group with demonstrated ability to carry out complex algae cultivation experiments. The ATP3 testbeds have provided robust, reliable, publicly available outdoor algae cultivation, harvest, composition and pond ecology and pathology data for technology assessments and decision support for BETO’s Advanced Algal Systems platform. We will also review the collaborations and research we are supporting in food/energy/water, in particular energy/water systems and some reflection on the importance and on going value proposition of federally supported testbeds.