Why Algae Abstracts Show Momentum of an Industry

There's more to be said for the record number of algae abstracts received for the biggest algae event of the year than the time spent reviewing and reading through the abstracts.
| August 01, 2011

If myself and the rest of the staff covering all things algae for Algae Technology & Business get the chance to talk with even half of the presenters lined up to speak at this year’s Algae Biomass Summit, October 24-27, in Minneapolis, consider us lucky. Although, after participating in the abstract review process for the show, and reading through enough algae abstracts to make my head spin with the technical, commercial and biological aspects of algae used for biofuels or biobased products, I have to count myself as lucky already.

As one of 40 on the abstract review committee that was formed of researchers and experts spanning the entire globe, I was part of a process that created over 1,200 abstract reviews. The number of abstracts submitted for this year’s show, 300 (three times as many as last year’s), was astonishing, and a true indication of the interest in algae. Those abstracts have produced the basis for what promises to be the most up-to-date, intriguing and invaluable topic discussions included in a four panel set-up that is based on biology, commercial applications and considerations, engineering and analysis, and also, policy and finance issues facing the industry.

Through the abstract review process I was reminded of the work being done at Cal Polytechnic State University by algae expert Tryg Lundquist. His team is working to develop a wastewater treatment process that utilizes algae. The team has already begun construction on a pilot pond system that will feature nine ponds in the 30-square meter range, all of which will treat wastewater while potentially creating a lipid-rich algae culture suitable for biofuels production. The project was funded in part by the California Energy Commission, and, unfortunately, the project wasn’t given millions of dollars (roughly $700,000). Given the amount of funding, one might question why Lundquist and his team need nine identical ponds instead of one.

“We’ve found in the past that the performance of these algae systems diverges pretty rapidly,” he says, “and if you have duplicate or triplicate of these units, after a few months you can have a very different set of cultures.” Because of the variance in results, he added that “you can’t base any of your conclusions off of just a single growth unit. That would be a caution to anyone out there,” he told me, “always have at least two, and preferably three, units.”

The reminder issued by Lundquist on the power of multiple tests for a single application seems to speak volumes about the potential of the work being done at Cal Poly, and the probability that the culmination of results from that work will prove to be accurate. And, his reminder seems to correlate well to the Algae Biomass Summit, where over 100 speakers will address the same topic: algae. I think Lundquist might agree that the set-up for the show is right on point, and that even though perspectives at the show will vary, the culmination of those perspectives will, if nothing else, prove to be accurate in a depiction of the industry and the numerous paths algae utilization can take. My head is already spinning.

The photo below shows the Cal Poly team hard at work, installing the pilot ponds that will be used for Lundquist's wastewater treatment project. To view the full agenda for the 2011 show: