The Potential for Micro-algae and Other "Micro-crops" to Produce Sustainable Biofuels (2011)

Client Organization: 
National Wildlife Federation
Project Location : 
Summary of Project Idea: 

Interest from private investors and government agencies has promoted algae and other "micro-crops" as a source of sustainable biofuels. However, this emerging and dynamic industry will require proper assessment to resolve uncertainties. Concerns of potential environmental impacts caused by commercial scale algae biofuels production include genetic modification, land-use, water quality and quantity, biodiversity and waste management at both local and landscape scale. We predict potential environmental impacts through the creation of model open system raceway pond and closed system photobioreactor systems that utilize photoautotrophic technology. Results from these systems will provide insight to inputs and outputs of algae biofuel facilities at a commercial scale, while also determining the algae biofuel industry's financial viability and subsequently pose policy recommendations to guide industry expansion.

Skills/Expertise Needed: 

The study could benefit from those with experience in aquatic biology, microbiology, greenhouse gas accounting, economics, chemistry, communications, engineering, and environmental policy. 

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Sustainable Systems
Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students gain an understanding of a wide array of disciplines in order to compete a thorough analysis of these crops and processes.  They will get to know and learn how to interact with private industry representatives in developing an understanding of their processes and practices, as well as how to interact with academics from a variety of fields, environmentalists, and several government agencies.  They will develop interview and seruvey skills.  They will learn to analyze and critique federal and state legislation and policies. 

The student team will also have an excellent opportunity to develop their communication skills.  The National Wildlife Federation will assist the team in making a trip to Washington DC at the completion of their project to present their findings to conservation and environmental groups, biofuels industry representatives, federal agencies and Congressional offices.  Last year's biofuel's team presented their project five times and generated good feedback and made excellent contacts.  A written report is now being developed, which NWF will review, edita and pay to have designed and printed.  Team members will help with press inquiries upon public release of the report.  While this is not guaranteed for the micro-crop project, it is a possibility, depending on the results of the project and funding availability. 

Identify expected products/deliverables: 

A high quality, poer point presentation summarizing the results of the study.  Students may also choose to produce fact sheets and a mini-report summarizing findings. 

State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
John DeCicco
Contact Phone: 
(202) 797-6832
Contact e-mail: 
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Aaron Assmann, MS Conservation Biology
  • Amy Braun, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Siddharth John, MS Sustainable Systems                         
  • Antony Lei, MBA/MS Sustainable Systems                                 
  • Sean Southard, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
Project Status: 
Past Project