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Microalgae could be Texas' next big cash crop
Date:7/6/2011

CORPUS CHRISTI Just as corn and peanuts stunned the world decades ago with their then-newly discovered multi-beneficial uses and applications, Texas AgriLife Research scientists in Corpus Christi think microalgae holds even more promise.

"It's a huge, untapped source of fuel, food, feed, pharmaceuticals and even pollution-busters," said Dr. Carlos Fernandez, a crop physiologist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Corpus Christi who is studying the physiological responses of microalgae to the environment.

There are an estimated 200,000 to 800,000 species of microalgae, microscopic algae that thrive in freshwater and marine systems, Fernandez said.

Of all those species, only 35,000 species have been described, he said.

Dr. Carlos Fernandez with one of four bioreactors

Dr. Carlos Fernandez examines one of four bioreactors prior to growing microalgae for studies. (AgriLife Research photo by Rod Santa Ana)

"We're only starting to scratch the surface of discovering the natural secrets of microalgae and their many potential uses and benefits," he said. "But already it's obvious that farmers will one day soon be growing microalgae on marginal land that won't compete with fertile farmland. They won't even compete for fresh water to grow."

To understand how best to grow it, Fernandez constructed a microalgae physiology laboratory to study how it's affected by temperature, salinity, nutrients, light levels and carbon dioxide.

"We have four bioreactors in which we grow microalgae to determine the basic physiological responses that affect its growth," he said. "We will then integrate these responses into a simulator model, a tool we can use in the management of larger, outdoor systems."

In this study, different strains of microalgae will be evaluated for their capacity to produce large amounts of lipids, or fats, that can then be converted to produce and refine diesel and othe
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Contact: Rod Santa Ana
r-santaana@tamu.edu
956-878-8317
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications
Source:Eurekalert

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