Algae power at SCSU
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
A photo-bioreactor used for algae experiments. The Phytoplankton Lab is in the basement of Wick Science Building.
A 500-gallon photo-bioreactor in Wick Science Building is the centerpiece of a university-industry partnership focused on commercializing algae-based products.
In the future that bioreactor could be scaled-up to 10,000 gallon tanks that could be moved by rail and truck, according to Matt Julius, professor of biology.
Julius and algae industry leader Tom Byrne are the faces of a collaboration that began in February 2010 with an intellectual property development agreement between Algedyne Corporation and St. Cloud State.
Byrne is CEO and president of Preston-based Algaedyne, a semi-finalist in the 2012 Minnesota Cup, an annual ideas competition that supports the state's leading entrepreneurs. The 1978 St. Cloud State graduate also is founder of the national trade group Algae Biomass Organization.
Byrne's vision for a national algae industry that aims to produce fuels,dyes, dietary supplements, chemicals and other products is localized with the phrase: "Manure will be worth more than milk."
A 10,000 gallon tank could collect carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosporus from dairy farm manure biodigesters and use it to fuel algae growth.
There are about 200,000 described species of algae, wth new species and new uses for algae being identified each year, Julius said.
The Haematococcus pluvialis algae can produce astaxanthin, a pigment salmon farms use to replicate the rich red color of wild salmon flesh. Astaxanthin sells for $2,500-$4,500 a kilogram, Byrne said.
On a large scale, polyunsaturated oil in some algae species can provide an alternative to fossil fuels, according to Mary Rosenthal, executive director of Algae Biomass Organization.
The St. Cloud State-Algaedyne collaboration has just "scratched the surface" of student opportunities for experiential learning, according to Devinder Malhotra, provost and vice president of academic affairs.
Undergraduate student Zachary Ditmarsen, St. Cloud has teamed with Matt Julius, professor of biology to develop a scheme for scaling algae production from 500-gallon tanks to stackable 10,000-gallon tanks.
"We are proud of our faculty," President Earl H. Potter III told an Aug. 21 gathering in Brown Hall Auditorium. "They create unique learning opportunities for our students."
"Energy demand is growing," said Rosenthal. "Algae is one of the tools in our toolbox to do that."
A strength of algae is its fast crop-cycle. The corn crop cycle, central to the ethanol indiustry, can be as long as four months, from planting to harvesting. The St. Cloud State-Algaedyne photo-bioreactor in Wick Science Building is harvested every 48 hours, according to Julius.
St. Cloud State is one of the few universitites in the nation that can deliver bulk algae, Julius said.
A key SCSU-Algaedyne innovation is using are long light-emitting diode (LED) tubes to promote greater algae growth. The 500-gallon photo-bioreactor in Wick Science Building is lit by six LED tubes. Algae in natural settings and in commercial pond systems grow only near the surface because the top layer of algae denies light to the rest of the water, Julius said.
Julius and his students, including undergraduate students Inti Chanthirath, Rogers, and Zachary Ditmarsen, St. Cloud, have teamed with Alagaedyne to build commercial relationships in New Jersey, Wisconsin and Mexico.
Joining St. Cloud State in exploring algae's potential are institutions such as Arizona State University and University of Colorado and organizations such as The Boeing Company and the United States Navy, according to Rosenthal.
St. Cloud State University