Microalgae, a Cash Crop?

Scientists in Corpus Christi, Texas, studying microalgae and the environment believe they’ve found the next great cash crop for Texas farmers.

| July 8, 2011

  • Dr. Carlos Fernandez examines one of four bioreactors prior to growing microalgae for studies.
    Dr. Carlos Fernandez examines one of four bioreactors prior to growing microalgae for studies.
    AgriLife Research/Rod Santa Ana

  • Dr. Carlos Fernandez examines one of four bioreactors prior to growing microalgae for studies.

Corpus Christi, Texas — 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,” says 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 says.

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



“We’re only starting to scratch the surface of discovering the natural secrets of microalgae and their many potential uses and benefits,” he says. “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.





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