Future Directions

Put less emphasis on outdoor field demonstrations and more on basic biology

Much work remains to be done on a fundamental level to maximize the overall productivity of algae mass culture systems. The bulk of this work is probably best done in the laboratory. The results of this program's demonstration activities have proven the concept of outdoor open pond production of algae. While it is important to continue a certain amount of field work, small scale studies and research on the

A Look Back at the Aquatic Species Program—Program Summary basic biological issues are clearly more cost effective than large scale demonstration studies.

Take Advantage of Plant Biotechnology

We have only scratched the surface in the area of genetic engineering for algae. With the advances occurring in this field today, any future effort on modifying algae to increase natural oil production and overall productivity are likely to proceed rapidly. The genetic engineering tools established in the program serve as a strong foundation for further genetic enhancements of algae.

Start with what works in the field

Select strains that work well at the specific site where the technology is to be used. These native strains are the most likely to be successful. Then, focus on optimizing the production of these native strains and use them as starting points for genetic engineering work.

Maximize photosynthetic efficiency.

Not enough is understood about what the theoretical limits of solar energy conversion are. Recent advances in our understanding of photosynthetic mechanisms at a molecular level, in conjunction with the advances being made in genetic engineering tools for plant systems, offer exciting opportunities for constructing algae which do not suffer the limitations of light saturation photoinhibition.

Set realistic expectations for the technology

Projections for future costs of petroleum are a moving target. DOE expects petroleum costs to remain relatively flat over the next 20 years. Expecting algal biodiesel to compete with such cheap petroleum prices is unrealistic. Without some mechanism for monetizing its environmental benefits (such as carbon taxes), algal biodiesel is not going to get off the ground.

Look for near term, intermediate technology deployment opportunities such as wastewater treatment.

Excessive focus on long term energy displacement goals will slow down development of the technology. A more balanced approach is needed in which more near term opportunities can be used to launch the technology in the commercial arena. Several such opportunities exist. Wastewater treatment is a prime example. The economics of algae technology are much more favorable when it is used as a waste treatment process and as a source of fuel. This harks back to the early days of DOE's research.

A Look Back at the Aquatic Species Program—Program Summary

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