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Effective cultivation of microalgae for biofuel production: a pilot-scale evaluation of a novel oleaginous microalga Graesiella sp. WBG-1

Wen, Xiaobin, Du, Kui, Wang, Zhongjie, Peng, Xinan, Luo, Liming, Tao, Huanping, Xu, Yan, Zhang, Dan, Geng, Yahong, Li, Yeguang
Biotechnology for biofuels 2016 v.9 no.1 pp. 123
Chlorophyta, Protozoa, biodiesel, biomass, carbon dioxide, fuel production, lipid content, lipids, microalgae, pH, ponds, screening, solar radiation, temperature
BACKGROUND: Commercial production of microalgal biodiesel is not yet economically viable, largely because of low storage lipid yield in microalgae mass cultivation. Selection of lipid-rich microalgae, thus, becomes one of the key research topics for microalgal biodiesel production. However, the laboratory screening protocols alone cannot predict the ability of the strains to dominate and perform in outdoor ponds. Comprehensive assessment of microalgae species should be performed not only under the laboratory conditions, but also in the fields. RESULTS: Laboratory investigations using a bubbled column photobioreactor indicated the microalga Graesiella sp. WBG-1 to be the most productive species among the 63 Chlorophyta strains. In a 10 L reactor, mimicking the industrial circular pond, Graesiella sp. WBG-1 produced 12.03 g biomass m⁻² day⁻¹ and 5.44 g lipids (45.23 % DW) m⁻² day⁻¹ under 15 mol m⁻² day⁻¹ artificial light irradiations. The lipid content decreased to ~34 % DW when the microalga was cultured in 30 L tank PBR under natural solar irradiations, but the decline of lipid content with scaling up was the minimum among the tested strains. Based on these results, the microalga was further tested for its lipid production and culture competitiveness using a pilot-scale raceway pond (200 m² illuminated area, culture volume 40,000 L). Consequently, Graesiella sp. WBG-1 maintained a high lipid content (33.4 % DW), of which ~90 % was storage TAGs. Results from the outdoor experiments indicated the nice adaptability of the Graesiella sp. WBG-1 to strong and fluctuating natural solar irradiance and temperature, and also demonstrated several other features, such as large cell size (easy for harvest and resistant to swallow by protozoa) and tolerance to high culture pH (helpful to CO₂ fixation). CONCLUSIONS: Graesiella sp. WBG-1 was a promising strain capable of accumulating large amount of storage lipid under nature solar irradiance and temperature. The high lipid content of 33.4 % DW was achieved for the first time in pilot-scale raceway pond. The results also provide evidence for the feasibility of using low-cost raceway pond for autotrophic cultivation of microalgae for biodiesel production.