David Border Consultancy

Microbiology in Action - scroll down for details

New developments - anaerobic digestion, microalgae and commercial composting

(83) Desalination in the Arabian Gulf and the problem of harmful algal blooms (HABs)

Stacks Image 1212
There has been a lot of attention paid to the problem of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Florida this last year (see my last blog). However, the HAB problem is world wide. One area that has particular concerns is the Arabian Gulf.

Many countries along the Arabian Gulf are increasingly dependent upon seawater desalination to provide potable water. In Qatar, about 99% of potable water is generated in this way. HABs can be a critical threat to this source of potable water.

HABs consist of a sudden and rapid growth of microalgae. dinoflagellates, or cyanobacteria as a result of changes in the environment in a body of water such as an imbalance in nutrients. HABs can discolour the water, while some produce potent neurotoxins that can harm aquatic organisms and human health.

The following microorganisms are some of those that cause HAB problems off the coast of Qatar

  • Pseudo-nitzschia spp
  • Alexandrium spp
  • Pyrodinium bahamense
  • Dinophysis sp.
  • Gymnodinium breve

HAB events, such as the one in 2008–2009 at Qatar, can force partial, or full, shutdown of desalination plants, and reduce their productivity. Typically, the filter media is fouled. Some plants were shut down for as much as 32–55 days in places where water storage may only be a few days. HAB problems are not just caused by the algal biomass that may foul membranes, but may also include toxins that can pass through the membranes and find their way into finished water. A review of the increasing frequency of HABs in the Arabian Gulf region was published in 2014.

The prevention of HABs, their rapid identification and quantitation when they occur, and the high cost of chemically treating the toxins and malodours are important considerations in continuing the successful expansion of desalination plants in the region. In 2017, UNESCO published a useful summary of the effect that HABs can have on desalination facilities, especially their impacts, monitoring and management.

The next blog in this series looks at how sophisticated satellite imagery is being used to study HABs in the Arabian Gulf.

You can keep up to date with the development of methods to identify, quantify and counter HABs in one of our Technology Updates dedicated to the subject.

(82) Governor’s Executive Order will help counter Florida’s Harmful Algal Blooms problem

Stacks Image 1201
Governor Ron DeSantis has recently signed (10th January 2019) an Executive Order to bring about major water reforms in Florida that will also help tackle Florida’s major problems with blue green algae (Cyanobacteria) in its rivers and ‘Red Tide’ off its coast. The Governor explains his actions in a video and says his actions will be based on up to date science.

The Governor directs the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Health (DOH), Visit Florida, and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to take a series of actions to enhance Florida’s water quality and preserve its natural resources.

The main instructions of the Order are to:

  • secure $2.5 billion over 4 years to invest in Everglades restoration and protecting Florida’s water resources
  • establish a Blue-Green Algae Task Force
  • create an Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency
  • appoint a Chief Science Officer
  • instruct the South Florida Water Management District to start the next phase of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project design

This move could be a major help in tackling these Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) and their causes. The emphasis on actions being science-based, and the creation of the Task Force, are particularly positive steps.

The full text of the Executive Order is shown below:

Section 1: Focus on Rapid Improvement for Water Quality, Quantity and Supply

I hereby direct the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Department of Health (DOH) as provided in paragraph J below, and Visit Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) as provided in paragraph L below, to take the following actions to enhance Florida’s water quality and preserve its natural resources:

Secure $2.5 billion over the next four years to invest in Everglades restoration and protecting our water resources.

B. Establish a Blue-Green Algae Task Force, charged with focusing on expediting progress toward reducing the adverse impacts of blue-green algae blooms now and over the next five years. This task force should support key funding and restoration initiatives to expedite nutrient reductions in Lake Okeechobee and the downstream estuaries. This task force should identify priority projects for funding that are based on scientific-data and build upon Basin Management Action Plans to provide the largest and most meaningful nutrient reductions in key waterbodies, as well as make recommendations for regulatory changes.

C. Update and secure all restoration plans, within one year, for waterbodies impacting South Florida communities, including Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. These updates will ensure that the Blue-Green Algae Task Force has the necessary information to provide guidance to DEP on maximizing the investments in water quality improvements.

D. Instruct the South Florida Water Management District to immediately start the next phase of the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project design and ensure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves the project according to schedule.

E. Expedite key Everglades projects including the C-44 reservoir and stormwater treatment area, C-43 reservoir, Tamiami Trail and additional projects necessary to protect our waterways and natural resources.

F. Work with the South Florida Water Management District to add stormwater treatment to the C-43 Reservoir to provide additional treatment and improve the quality of water leaving this important storage component.

G. Expedite projects with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve management of Lake Okeechobee, including updating the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule and identifying water quality treatment technologies to install near water control structures in Lake Okeechobee.

H. Direct DEP to establish a septic conversion and remediation grant program with a local government match requirement.

I. Instruct all five water management districts to increase transparency and accountability by providing data and information to DEP to support key water quality restoration efforts. Instruct all water management districts to review budgets and prioritize available funding to focus on projects that will help address harmful algae blooms and maximize nutrient reductions.

J. Participate in Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force to provide technical expertise and assistance studying causes and impacts of red tide. The DOH is also directed to participate in FWC’s Task Force to help study air quality and human health impacts of red tide.

K. Continue DEP’s red tide emergency grant program to support local governments to clean up their beaches and coastal areas to minimize the impacts of red tide to residents and visitors.
L. Partner with Visit Florida and DEO to identify opportunities within communities and recommend investments in green infrastructure, such as wetland treatment systems, that benefit our natural resources and local economies by increasing recreational and tourism opportunities, while improving water quality.

M. Engage local governments, industry, universities and water management districts to identify and research all viable alternative water supply sources and provide an assessment of funding needs critical to supporting Florida’s growing economy. DEP should take all necessary steps to establish recurring funding for an alternative water supply grant program to help communities plan for and implement vital conservation, reuse and other alternative water supply projects.

N. Engage local governments, industry, citizens and other stakeholders through a targeted education and outreach campaign that will focus on the importance of conservation and reuse efforts and encourage Floridians to implement essential conservation and reuse efforts in their homes, businesses and communities throughout Florida.

O. Continue to explore every option to stop Georgia’s harmful upstream water use from causing further adverse impacts to the Apalachicola River and Bay.

Section 2: Restructuring to Focus on Accountability, Transparency, and Science to Achieve More Now for Florida’s Environment

I hereby direct DEP to implement the following actions to ensure the agency is making sound decisions based on the best available science and providing for accountability and transparency:

A. Create the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency charged with organizing and directing integrated scientific research and analysis to ensure that all agency actions are aligned with key environmental priorities.

B. Appoint a Chief Science Officer to coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring and analysis needs to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians.

C. Take all necessary actions to move the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Unit from FWC to DEP to align resources focused on environmental protection and ensure strong enforcement of Florida’s environmental laws.

Section 3: Ensure Florida’s Valuable and Vulnerable Coastlines and Natural Resources are Protected

I hereby direct DEP to implement the following actions to protect Florida’s coastlines and natural resources:

A. Create the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise by providing funding, technical assistance and coordination among state, regional and local entities.

B. Take necessary actions to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.

(81) Qatar and cattle feed - a possible role for microalgae

Stacks Image 1186
Last year I had the pleasure of visiting the impressive Baladna Dairy Farm in Qatar with my host Charles Shaw of the Ronella Group. in this ultra-modern farm the dairy cows are protected from the external environmental conditions at all times.

The farm is located in a desert area to the north of the capital Doha. It currently houses over 10,000 cows and has the capacity to house 24,000. The above image shows the automated milking hall. The image below shows the cows being fed in an air-conditioned environment.
Stacks Image 1188
The CEO of Baladna - Peter Weltevreden - says the company is expanding its activities and is working on the construction of 40 new farms as well as the construction of two water treatment facilities.

Qatar used to import all its food from outside countries, but is now sparing no expense in making its food supply independent. The Baladna dairy farm is an excellent example of this approach. A video describes the thinking behind the project.

Cows need protein in their feed. This can be supplied by a number of feed materials such as soya bean meal, but there is increasing interest in at least partially substituting microalgae.

Qatar is fortunate in having an excellent microalgae research unit at Qatar University. Under its Algal Technologies Program (ATP) the University is tasked with carrying out work on increasing its microalgae culture collection, and developing the use of microalgae for biofuel production, bioremediation, improving human health, and producing animal and aquaculture feed.

Microalgae are commercially attractive in that they have an extremely rapid rate of growth and can out-yield conventional sources of protein on an area basis. Microalgae can also be grown on marginal or non-arable land and need not use good quality agricultural land that can be used to grow other crops. Some microalgae can also be grown in marine water and do not need to use expensively produced fresh water in countries like Qatar.

Microalgae need carbon dioxide to carry out the process of photosynthesis. Anaerobic digestion facilities, such as the one at Mesaieed near Doha, could provide a concentrated source of this gas. The carbon dioxide can be taken from the flue gas produced by the gas engines that burn the biogas (a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide) to produce electricity, or can be extracted from the biogas itself.

A study by a Finnish group on using microalgae as a partial replacement for soya bean meal in cattle feed has just been published.

The study looked at the use of several types of microalgae including Spirulina platensis, Chlorella vulgaris, and a mixture of Chlorella and Nannochloropsis gaditana, along with soya bean meal. It was concluded that microalgae are a likely source of protein comparable to soya bean meal. Spirulina platensis was also found to increase milk fat production. However, the palatability of the microalgae needs to be improved.

Although there is still much work to be done on optimising the use of microalgae as a component of cattle feed, the results so far are promising. The ability of a country such as Qatar to grow at least some its cattle feed internally rather than relying on imports has definite attractions.

You can keep up to date with developments in microalgae, the uses of the carbon dioxide and methane in biogas, and anaerobic digestion in three of our subscription Technology Updates. You can also see important books on microalgae and carbon dioxide/methane at our David Border Consultancy website.

(80) Small footprint microalgal photobioreactors

Stacks Image 1175
In a number of projects where I have been involved, the plan has been to add a microalgal cultivation system to an existing source of carbon dioxide, e.g an anaerobic digestion operation or cement factory. Often, a major restriction has been the amount of space available. Although there are some excellent raceway pond and photobioreactor technologies available, many have too large a footprint. I am, therefore, always on the look out for cultivation systems that have a small footprint.

One such system is that offered by Pond Technologies. A brief schematic video of their system is available.

The Pond Technologies website makes a statement that I agree with totally - “Emitting large volumes of carbon dioxide is no longer a risk or liability - it is a potential revenue stream”. The CEO of Pond Technologies, Steve Martin, says “Our technology is much more than sequestration of carbon dioxide. We actually convert greenhouse gases into sustainable proteins and high-value nutraceuticals, or dietary supplements, that can benefit society. The market for the technology is huge — there are more than 10,000 large emitters [of carbon dioxide] in North America.”

The technology can used to take carbon dioxide from a number of sources to produce nutraceuticals (such as astaxanthin), animal and aquaculture feeds and many other products.

Many aspects of the technology are patent-protected, covering the USA, the EU, China and Canada. Patent protection has recently been extended to include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

This is obviously a company with world-wide ambitions.

(79) Carbon dioxide - from climate problem to valuable feedstock

Stacks Image 1154
Many times in this blog, throughout this website, in my other website at https://www.visualize-climate-change.com/ I emphasise that although carbon dioxide is a problematic greenhouse gas it is also a valuable resource that is available in truly vast and continually renewable quantities. What more could you ask of a resource?

Technologies exist, and more are being developed, to turn carbon dioxide into valuable products.

One excellent example is the work being carried out by the company Opus 12 based in Silicon Valley. A video of their concept is available below.
Their process involves using electricity to convert water and carbon dioxide into a cost-competitive range of chemicals otherwise made from petroleum, such as diesel fuel and plastics, along with oxygen. Using this process would reduce the carbon footprint of the world’s heaviest emitters while at the same time creating a new revenue stream. If renewable sources of electricity are used to drive the process it becomes even more environmentally attractive. The process uses a new range of carbon dioxide-reducing catalysts.
Pasted Graphic
The technical founders of the company are out of the prestigious Jaramillo Group at Stanford University, world leaders in carbon dioxide electrocatalysis. Opus 12 was formed in 2015 by Dr Kendra Kuhl and Dr Etosha Cave, along with Nicholas Flanders, an experienced entrepreneur also from Stanford.

(78) Making the most from the anaerobic digestion of wastewater

Stacks Image 1135
A very interesting article was published recently in Water Technology on what happens to the biogas (carbon dioxide and methane) produced by the anaerobic digestion (AD) of the organic solids resulting from wastewater treatment. In the US over 1,200 facilities carry out this AD process.

There are 15,000 water resources recovery facilities in the U.S. but only a third of these produce biogas by the AD process or supply material to other AD facilities. The article states that only 85% of these AD facilities use the biogas produced, with only 16% producing electricity from the biogas, and just 1% upgrading the biogas to produce biomethane. The most common use for the biogas produced is to heat the aerobic digesters, followed by building heating, power generation, driving process machinery, and pipeline injection. The national biogas potential production from wastewater treatment, as estimated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (
NREL) amounts to 2.3 million tonnes a year.

Work at the
California State University suggests that production of biogas dramatically increases if the wastewater solids (25%) are co-digested with food waste (75%). With this mixture biogas production is increased by 60% compared to digesting wastewater solids on their own.

The digestion process not only produces biogas but also significant quantities of heat. This can be used not just to warm the digesters but also to preheat the feedstock, or to pasteurise and concentrate the digestate produced.

This is a really useful article.

I would like to add a few other suggestions to improve the economics of the AD facilities:
  • Use the carbon dioxide in the gas engine flue gas to grow microalgae (to produce biomass, pharmaceuticals, nutrachemicals) or to produce chemicals otherwise made from petrochemicals.
  • Use the carbon dioxide in the biogas itself to carry out the same activities.
  • Use the methane in the biogas to produce biodegradable plastics.

There is so much that can be done to integrate anaerobic digestion with other technologies, enabling the manufacture of a wide range of new products.

The topics are discussed in more detail elsewhere in this website.

(77) World Industrial Photobioreactor Challenge

Barry Cohen, Executive Director of the National Algae Association is offering a challenge to developers to identify the best industrial/commercial microalgal cultivation systems on the market.

"Qualified third-party evaluators will be conducting on- and off-site tests of commercial algae cultivation systems in an unbiased manner to assist potential system purchasers and investors. NAA will be creating a list of comparisons. Deidentified data collected will be shared with the algae production industry."

"NAA invites all commercial algae cultivation system manufacturers, fabricators and water process engineers in the US and throughout the world to participate in the World Industrial Photobioreactor Challenge. Testing time frames will be 6-12 months."

I think this is an excellent way to test the commercial reality of the many designs of photobioreactors being proposed. Many designs will not survive the move from the laboratory to the commercial world. The hard, independent data generated by the competition will enable potential purchases to make informed decisions.

(76) Biochar and anaerobic digestion

Biochar is produced by the heating of biomass in the presence of little or no oxygen - pyrolysis or gasification. This process drives off volatile compounds leaving the carbon. One of the main researchers in biochar production and use is Professor Johannes Lehmann at Cornell University.

New work by researchers at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center looks at the use of biochar in making the anaerobic digestion of dry dairy manure more efficient. The biochar used (at 0, 1 and 10 g/l, and at 20ºC (psychrophilic), 35ºC (mesophilic) and 55ºC (thermophilic)) was derived from diary manure. Compared with zero biochar present, cumulative methane and yields with 10 g/l of biochar were increased by 27.65% and 26.47% at 20ºC, 32.21% and 24.90% at 35ºC and 35.71% and 24.69% at 55ºC.

This addition of biochar also reduced the lag time of digestion at all temperatures studied (reducing the required size of the digestion unit) and lowered the concentration of total volatile fatty acids (VFAs) and propionic acid.

This work demonstrates the efficient use of animal manures to generate electricity. The biochar acts as an effective buffer to maintain the optimum pH for methanogenic bacteria, and also contains high levels of nutrients and minerals to support bacterial growth. The end result is that the addition of biochar lowers the initial investment costs and reduces water consumption, operating costs and land area requirements.

(75) Five new Technology Updates

Stacks Image 1102
We are offering these Technology Updates as a way of saving you time and money.
David Border consultancy now offer 5 more subscription-only, bi-weekly Technology Updates on the following topics: 

Aquaculture Feed: The use of new and sustainable commercial fish feed is an important development in the growing industry of aquaculture. With the move away from fishmeal and fish oil many new materials and processes are being explored to provide cost-effective substitutes or supplements.

Biodegradable Bioplastics: The world-wide problem of pollution of land and the oceans by non-biodegradable plastics is well known. Biodegradable bioplastics are an important way forward for two reasons:
• They are derived from renewable sources  and not from petroleum.
• They can be broken down by microorganisms to prevent accumulation in the environment.  

Photosynthesis: Photosynthesis (the conversion by plants and algae of solar energy, carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy and biomass) is the most important process on the planet. Photosynthesis uses the primary source of all energy (the sun) and is the main producer of oxygen in the atmosphere. The study, understanding and development of photosynthesis is critical to the future of all human, animal and plant life.

Biofuels: There is increasing evidence that the greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels are contributing to climate change.  Biofuels are renewable and are made from plant and algal feedstocks that take up carbon dioxide as they grow through the process of photosynthesis.

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs): Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) occur in the sea and freshwater causing major financial losses for the fishing and tourist industries. Many different solutions are being proposed including predicting and tracking blooms, preventing excess nutrients entering the water, harvesting, and other physical, biological and chemical control systems.

These new Technology Updates are in addition to the previous six:

Climate Change: Climate Change is perhaps the most important technological topic today. A vast amount of information is published on this topic every day - much of it of dubious authority and political in nature. There is also a great deal of high-quality information published, for example two extensive recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Anaerobic Digestion and Commercial-Scale Composting: Anaerobic Digestion and Composting are two major technologies that are so important in recycling organic wastes and generating energy. David Border Consultancy has been working hands-on in these technologies for 33 years. We have an extensive database of technical and commercial information that is updated every day.

Microalgae and Macroalgae: The cultivation and extraction of Microalgae and Macroalgae are two rapidly growing industries that are revolutionising the way that food and food additives are manufactured.

Carbon dioxide and methane: CO2 and CH4 are increasingly recognised as not just problematic greenhouse gases but also important feedstocks for a range of technologies. CO2 in industrial flue gases can be used to grow microalgae or be made into bioplastics. CH4 - from landfill sites or anaerobic digestion plants - can be burned to produce electricity but can also be converted into biodegradable plastics. There are many other uses for both gases.

Photobioreactors: The cultivation and extraction of Microalgae is a rapidly growing industry that is revolutionising the way that food and food additives are manufactured. The cost of cultivation is a vital aspect of making the industry commercially viable and the capital and operating costs of the photobioreactors used are important elements. The design and efficiency of photobioreactors are rapidly improving. This Update ensures that you are aware of new developments.

Biorefineries: It is increasingly recognised that there are great benefits in integrating complementary microbial technologies such as anaerobic digestion, composting and microalgae cultivation. Integration - in the form of a biorefinery - can result in improved efficiency, reduced operating costs, and the production of a wider range of high-value products. Biorefineries can also use greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) as feedstocks

These are all subjects I work on as part of my David Border Consultancy activities. My current database of information on these topics (updated daily) contains over 21,000 items.

To keep up to date with developments in these fields I spend a great deal of time identifying, retrieving and organising relevant information.  This requires a detailed knowledge of each topic in order to separate the “wheat from the chaff” (and there is a lot of “chaff” published!). My 35 years working in commercial microbiology provide me with the required knowledge.

The Updates will be issued every two weeks and will include relevant information published in the previous two weeks.

The information will include (with links to the original sources):
  • annotated summaries of technical articles and important commercial news items
  • links to important academic reports and theses
  • links to government reports
  • links to the best videos
  • downloadable PDFs

This service is backed up by a regularly updated second database of individuals, companies, associations and research organizations that work in these areas.

Each Technology Update is offered at $98.00 (£76.00) for 26 issues (one every two weeks). This equates to only $4 (£3)/issue.

If you would like to subscribe to one or more of these updates, or have suggestions for other topics, please email me.

Email: david.border@davidborder.co.uk 

(74) Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) - Key points

Stacks Image 26
As part of an analysis of NCA4, and before this important report slides into history, let’s take a look at a summary of the overall findings. This summary includes the key findings as they relate to climate change in the U.S.
Climate change is creating new risks and increasing the problems of vulnerable communities. 
The effects of climate change are evident now and not just something to worry about in the future. Changes in average temperatures are occurring along with an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate-related events. These will continue to damage the country’s infrastructure, ecosystems and social systems. The greatest impacts will be on lower-income and marginalised communities who are less able to adapt. A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is essential.
Stacks Image 30
Unless significant effort is made to limit climate change, there will be increasing losses to infrastructure and property, and a reduction in the rate of economic growth.
Major industries such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries are particularly vulnerable to climate change. There will be higher energy costs. The effect of climate change on other countries will affect U.S. trade and economy. If emissions continue at the current rate, it is predicted that losses will reach hundred of billions of dollars by the end of the century.
Interconnected impacts
Critical systems such as water resources, food production and distribution, energy, transportation, public health, international trade and national security are all interrelated.
The effects of extreme weather and other climate-related impacts on one system can result in increased risks or failures in other systems. These interconnections are complicated and difficult to predict.
Actions to reduce risks
Communities and businesses - not just the Government - are working to reduce the risks of climate change. However, actions so far are insufficient to avoid substantial damage to the economy and human health.
In order to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change, more immediate and substantial actions have to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
There are increased risks to the supply and costs of water for agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation and the environment.
Rising temperatures and changes in the volume and timing of precipitation are causing intensified droughts and flooding. In some regions there is a temporal mismatch between the availability of water and its need.  There is concern about the supply of water for hydropower production. Sea level rise is the U.S. Caribbean is causing flooding and saltwater contamination.  Water management practices need to be improved.
There are increased threats to the health of the American public through poorer air quality and the increased transmission of diseases by insects and pests.
Heat-related deaths are predicted to increase, along with the frequency and severity of allergic illnesses such as asthma and hay fever.  The geographical range of diseases caused by insects is expected to widen. 
Indigenous peoples
The interconnected social, physical and ecological systems of indigenous communities face increased threats.
The livelihoods and economies of indigenous peoples depend for a great part on agriculture, agroforestry, fishing, recreation and tourism. These are increasingly threatened by climate change. Some communities are taking steps to adapt to these changes. 
Ecosystems and ecosystem services
Climate change is making transformative changes to some ecosystems such as coral reefs and sea ice. 
Many changes to ecosystems are taking place, such as the degradation of air and water quality, increased wildfire frequency, and spread of invasive plant species. These changes can only be mitigated by major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Agriculture and food
Climate change is expected to increasingly disrupt agriculture in the U.S. 
Livestock health will be reduced, crop yields will drop and decrease in quality, and soil erosion will increase along with pest outbreaks. Climate change will also affect agriculture in other countries and will thereby affect U.S. trade. There are many adaptation strategies that could be adopted but their effect will be limited if climate change is severe.
Heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat and wild fires will have a major effect on the country’s ageing infrastructure. 
This degradation of infrastructure, such as energy production and transportation, will threaten the economy, national security, essential services and well-being. Rising sea levels will affect the trillion-dollar coastal property market. 
Oceans and coast
The rise in sea level and high-tide flooding will increase the costs of coastal communities and lower property values
Ocean temperatures are rising and oceans are becoming acidified.  Arctic sea ice is retreating and coastal erosion is increasing. Commercial fisheries, and the communities that depend on them, will suffer.

Stacks Image 34
Tourism and recreation
Outdoor recreation and tourist economies will be degraded by climate change.
Economies reliant on coral reef-based recreation, winter recreation, and inland water-based recreation, hunting and other wildlife-related activities, will all be affected by climate change.  
The threats of climate change to the U.S. could hardly be clearer or more concerning. 
You can subscribe to a
Technology Update covering developments in climate change. 
Email me for details

(73) UKCP18 - Climate projections for the UK - 2018

Stacks Image 41
The UK climate is changing and further changes are inevitable.
The UK Met Office has just published its
UKCP18 report (26 November 2018), the first major update to the UK’s climate projections for nearly 10 years.
UKCP18 provides the most up to date, peer-reviewed scientific evidence on projected climate changes directly affecting the UK.

The report is part of the Met Office Hadley Centre Climate Programme which is supported by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Data up to 2017


  • The average UK temperature during 2008-2017 was 0.3ºC warmer than the average for 1981-2010, and 0.8ºC warmer than the average for 1961-1990. Nine of the ten warmest years have occurred since 2002.
  • The Central England Temperature Dataset, (recording temperatures since 1772), shows that the average UK temperature during 2008-2017 was around 1.0ºC warmer than during the pre-industrial period (1850-1900). This figure agrees with estimates of global temperature increases during these periods.
  • The average hottest day of the year during 2008-2017 was 0.1ºC warmer than during 1981-2010, and 0.8ºC warmer the during 1961-1990.


  • The average rainfall during 2008-2017 was 4% greater than during 1981-2010.
  • Summers in the UK during 2008-2017 were on average 17% wetter than during 1981-2010, and 20% wetter the during 1961-1990.
  • The total rainfall on extremely wet days during 2008-2017 was 17% greater than during 1961-1990. These changes were greatest in Scotland and not significant in southern and eastern England.

Sea level

  • Mean sea level around the UK has risen by around 16 cm since 1900.

Projections from 2018 onwards


  • By the end of the 21st century all parts of the UK are projected to be warmer, more so in summer than in winter.
  • If high greenhouse gas emissions continue, by 2070 the range of projected temperature increases amounts to 0.9º - 5.4ºC in summer, and 0.7º - 4.2ºC in winter.
  • Hot summers are expected to be more common. During the period 1981-2000 the chance of seeing a summer as hot as that experienced in 2018 was <10%. At the moment the chance is 10-20%, and by 2050 it is expected to be c. 50%.


  • If high greenhouse gas emissions continue, by 2070 projected rainfall will change by -47% to + 2% in summer, and -1% to +35% in winter.

Sea level

  • The rise in sea level around the UK is not uniform - less in the north and more in the south. This is mainly due to movement of land up and down.
  • For London, if high levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue, by 2100 sea level rise is projected to be 0.53 m to 1.15 m. With low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the rise is projected to be 0.29 m to 0.70 m.
  • For Edinburgh, if high levels of greenhouse gas emissions continue, by 2100 sea level rise is projected to be 0.30 m to 0.90 m. With low levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the rise is projected to be 0.08 m to 0.49 m.
  • Projections up to 2300 show continued rises in sea level.

This report provides a useful indication of the effects of climate change at a relatively small scale - the UK - compared to global projections.

David Border


Read my latest blogs at:


Website - Visualize Climate Change (Part of DBCC):

(72) Microalgae and sustainable aquaculture - the way forward

Stacks Image 48
One of the main goals of commercial fish farming (aquaculture) is to develop a sustainable source of feed that no longer relies on the use of fish meal and fish oil. I have looked at this in an earlier blog.
Stacks Image 52
Much of the current research on using microalgae (which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals) as a fish feed is being carried out in Norway. A consortium consisting of the University of Bergen, the Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), and the commercial company CO2Bio AS has been particularly active.

The group has set up a pilot plant that is co-located at the
Technology Centre Mongstad, near Bergen. The Centre is the world’s largest facility for testing and improving CO2 capture as part of the Centre’s work on countering climate change. The Centre is a joint venture between the Norwegian State, Equinor (formally Statoil), Total, and Shell. It is the Equinor refinery at Mongstad that provides the CO2 used to grow the microalgae.
Stacks Image 56
The pilot plant is called the National AlgaePilot Mongstad (NAM) and has been operational since 2017. The facility has been funded by the University of Bergen, the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget), the Fisheries and Aquaculture Industry Research Fund, Hordland County Municipality, and the Nordhordland Region Council.

The facility consists of a 200 m
2 greenhouse that contains microalgae photobioreactors, and an operation building that includes a laboratory and equipment to process the microalgae that are produced.
The main activity will be to test and cultivate a range of microalgae that can take in CO2 from the refinery and produce high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The work will also include steps to reduce capital and operational costs to make the aquaculture feed commercially viable for salmon farming.
The microalgae produced can be used not just as fish feed but also as a feed for
copepods (small crustaceans) and rotifers (microscopic aquatic animals) that are used as live feeds for fish larvae.

The photobioreactors are the core of the facility. They cultivate microalgae using the process of
photosynthesis to convert solar energy into microalgal biomass.
Stacks Image 62

The photobioreactors are supplied by
LGem b.v. based in the Netherlands. LGem uses the DURAN borosilicate glass tubing produced by Schott to construct its photobioreactors.

This is an excellent example of government, universities and comical companies working together to develop new technologies and markets based on microalgae.

(71) U.N. Emissions Gap Report 2018

This United Nations report has just been published. It is 9th in this series.

The Report presents the latest scientific data on current and estimated future greenhouse gas emissions. It then compares these with the emission levels permissible for the world to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Stacks Image 71

Basis of the Report

The Report takes into account a number of processes that have taken place recently:

  • The U.N. Talanoa Dialogue Platform: This is an account of the recent activities carried out under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • The Global Climate Action Summit (September 2018)
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC. (See earlier blog).

The Emissions Gap Report does not refer to the recently published U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment (This will be covered in a later blog).

Summary of the results of the Report

The results of the Report can be summarized as follows:

  • The current commitments of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on reducing greenhouse gas emissions are not enough to bridge the emissions gap in 2030.
  • Unless the NDCs are increased it will no longer be possible to prevent warming exceeding 1.5ºC.
  • If nothing changes it is projected that global warming will increase by about 3ºC by 2100, with the warming continuing thereafter.
  • Unprecedented and urgent action is required by all nations.
  • Most G20 countries are on track to meet their emission reduction pledges by 2020. Other countries are not yet on course to reach their targets.

Carbon dioxide emissions
  • Carbon dioxide emissions increased in 2017 after three years of stabilisation.
  • In 2017 the total annual greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 53.5 GtCO2e. This represents an increase of 0.7 GtCO2 over the 2016 figure.
  • If the effect of land-use changes are removed from these figures the 2017 greenhouse gas emissions were 49.2 GtCO2e, and increase of 1.1% over 2016.
  • However, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 must be 25% lower than 2017 in order to limit global warming to 2ºC, and 55% lower to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

The emissions gap
  • The emissions gap is 15 GtCO2e if only the NDCs are implemented in order to limit warming to 2ºC.
  • The emissions gap is 32 GtCO2e if only the NDCs are implemented in order to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

Necessary action to each the Paris Agreement targets
  • It is clear that countries have to scale up their NDCs if the targets of the Paris Agreement are to be met.
  • The Report also notes that actions taken at the sub-national and non-state levels could be significant.
  • Fiscal policy, such as carbon pricing, plays an important role in creating incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Another key component is innovation of new technologies and new markets. Innovation and the creation of new markets is essential if the emissions gap is to be bridged.
  • International collaboration can unlock additional innovation by leveraging larger pools of money and talent.
  • Financial market regulation can favor low-carbon portfolios.

Success factors

There are five factors that the Report indicates policy makers should consider in tackling the emissions gap:

  • Public organizations must be willing to take on the early, high-risk stages of innovation.
  • At the mid-stage of innovation, public organizations must still be involved to de-risk private investment in new technologies and markets.
  • Green policies must give direction to the whole economy.
  • Specific targets should be identified, e.g. a reduction of x% in the cost of a technology by a specific date.
  • Policy instruments should be designed to provide as much certainly as possible for private finance investments.

(70) Fourth National Climate Assessment - NCA Volume II - Initial comments

Stacks Image 78

I have been working my way through this impressive
report and will be commenting in detail on each of its sections in the coming weeks. However, I thought it would be useful to give some background to the report (all 1,656 pages) and to pull out some the general findings before going into the specifics.

This is
Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) - Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States, and follows on from Volume I - Climate Science Special Report that was published in 2017.

Report authors

Preparation of the NCA4 has been the responsibility of the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (

The report has been written by over 300 Federal and non-Federal authors. Some the organizations involved include:

A pretty impressive list.

The report review process

The draft report has been taken through a rigorous review process involving 8 stages:

  1. December 2016 - review of Chapter outlines by the Federal Steering Committee
  2. A review of annotated outlines by the SGCR
  3. A technical and editorial review by the NOAA
  4. A second review by the SGCR
  5. Draft released for public comment
  6. November 2017 - Review by an expert panel the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
  7. May 2018 - Final NCA review and clearance
  8. Summer 2018 - A final round of technical and editorial reviews by the NCA leadership and the NOAA and a ‘showstopper’ review that included the authors of the report in Autumn 2018.

A pretty impressive review procedure.

General findings

  • Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilisation.
  • This change is primarily the result of human activity.
  • The impacts of these changes are already being felt in the USA and are projected to intensify in the future.
  • The severity of future impacts of change depends upon two factors:
    • whether the emission of greenhouse gases are reduced or not.
    • the extent to which we can adapt to these changes
  • The risks of climate change are recognised by some in the USA who are taking actions (for example) to:
    • counter increasing drought conditions
    • aid the recovery of corals from bleaching caused by warmer waters
    • prevent flooding caused by increasing rainfall
    • reduce erosion and nutrient losses from agricultural soils caused by increasing rainfall.
  • Climate-related risks will continue to grow unless remedial action is taken
  • Decisions taken today will determine the level of risk for this and future generations
  • Current mitigation actions and efforts to adapt to predicted changes are not at the necessary scale to avoid substantial damage to the U.S. economy, environment, human health and well-being over the coming decades.

My initial comment

This is a serious and extremely concerning report. It is the responsibility of everyone to act on its conclusions and recommendations.

(68) Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) - Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States

Stacks Image 100
Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) - Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States - was published today (23 November 2018)
The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the U.S.
Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) deliver a report to Congress and the President no less than every four years.
This report:

  • integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program
  • analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity
  • analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.

Volume I - the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) provided the foundational science used in Volume II.

Volume II - Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States - focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways. It also provides examples of actions underway in communities across the United States to reduce the risks associated with climate change, increase resilience, and improve livelihoods.

This assessment was written to help inform decision-makers, utility and natural resource managers, public health officials, emergency planners, and other stakeholders by providing a thorough examination of the effects of climate change on the United States.

The report is available
online and each section is downloadable in two formats - PDFs and PowerPoint presentations.

Volume II is divided into the following sections:
  • Report in Brief
  • Reporting Brief (Espanol)
  • Summary Findings
  • Chapter 1: Overview
  • Chapter 2: Our Changing Climate
  • Chapter 3: Water
  • Chapter 4: Energy Supply, Delivery and Demand
  • Chapter 5: Land Cover and Land-Use Change
  • Chapter 6: Forests
  • Chapter 7: Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity
  • Chapter 8: Coastal Effects
  • Chapter 9: Oceans and Marine Resources
  • Chapter 10: Agriculture and Rural Communities
  • Chapter 11: Built Environment, Urban Systems, and Cities
  • Chapter 12: Transportation
  • Chapter 13: Air Quality
  • Chapter 14: Human Health
  • Chapter 15: Tribes and Indigenous Peoples
  • Chapter 16: Climate Effects on U.S. International Interests
  • Chapter 17: Sector Interactions, Multiple Stressors, and Complex Systems
  • Chapter 18: Northeast
  • Chapter 19: Southeast
  • Chapter 20: U.S. Caribbean
  • Chapter 21: Midwest
  • Chapter 22: Northern Great Plains
  • Chapter 23: Southern Great Plains
  • Chapter 24: Northwest
  • Chapter 25: Southwest
  • Chapter 26: Alaska
  • Chapter 27: Hawaii and U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands
  • Chapter 28: Reducing Risks Through Adaptation Actions
  • Chapter 29: Reducing Risks Through Emissions Mitigation
  • Frequently Asked Questions

I will be going through the implications of this report in detail on my website
https://visualize-climate-change.com/ over the next few weeks.

(67) Three more Technology Updates

Stacks Image 107
I have today published three more Technology Updates (see blog (66) for details of these documents) on Biorefineries, Carbon Dioxide and Methane, and Photobioreactors. These are available as bi-weekly newsletters on subscription.

(66) Technology Updates

Stacks Image 114
I am today launching three new Technology Updates covering:
  • Anaerobic Digestion and Commercial-Scale Composting
  • Climate Change
  • Microalgae and Macroalgae

I am offering the
Technology Updates as a way of saving you time and money.

These are all subjects I work on as part of my David Border Consultancy activities. My current database of information on these topics (updated daily) contains over 20,000 items.

To keep up to date with developments in these fields I spend a great deal of time identifying, retrieving and organising relevant information.  This requires a detailed knowledge of each topic in order to separate the “wheat from the chaff” (and there is a lot of “chaff” published!). My 35 years working in commercial microbiology provide me with the required knowledge.

Updates will be issued every two weeks and will include relevant information published in the previous two weeks.

The information will include (with links to the original sources):

  • annotated summaries of technical articles and important commercial news items
  • links to important academic reports and theses
  • links to government reports
  • links to the best videos
  • downloadable PDFs

This service is backed up by a regularly updated second database of individuals, companies, associations and research organizations that work in the three areas.

Technology Update is offered at $98.00 (£76.00) for 26 issues (one every two weeks). This equates to only $4 (£3)/issue.

If you would like to subscribe to one or more of these updates please
email me.

(65) Knowns and unknowns about climate change

A very interesting video was published yesterday (20th November 2018). This was a talk by Professor Chris Field of Stanford University given at the Stanford Energy Global Energy Forum, 1-2 November 2018. The talk - Knowns and Unknowns About Climate Change -  is an excellent summary of current thinking on climate change, its current effects and likely future developments.

Prof Field is not one to bury the lead, and starts with his overall conclusions:
  • The main known is that we need to be working harder on climate change, and
  • The main unknown is - are we going to do that?

Prof Field follows with some well known data showing the rate of increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (a 42% rise since pre-industrial times and the highest for at least 800,000 years), and the increase in global temperatures (1.3ºC higher the pre-industrial times at a current rate of 0.2ºC increase/decade). There is now great confidence that human activities are the main cause of these increases. 
He lists some of the extreme events that occur around the world such as droughts, wild fires, coastal flooding by hurricanes, a rise in sea levels, and heavy precipitation in warmer air. He states that the warmer the Earth becomes, there is a greater risk of severe and pervasive impacts.
He then describes a number of important thresholds that we must be aware of:

Sea level increases and climate change
  • The sea level equivalent trapped in ice sheets is 18 m. Any significant melting of the ice sheets will result in a rise in sea level. The rise in sea levels in the 21st century - if we continue with high emissions - will be c.1 m, an existential situation for some countries.  If emissions are reduced then this rise will also be greatly reduced. Prof Field makes the point that this type of projection should be extended beyond the end of the 21st century to, say,  2500. The consequences of change or no change with emissions become even more stark with these longer projections. With no change in the levels of emissions the potential rise in sea level is 15 m by 2500.
Permafrost thawing
  • Permafrost thawing - As I discussed in my earlier blog (17 November 2018) the effect of significant thawing of the permafrost can have major effects.  The amount of carbon held in permafrost is four times the amount in the atmosphere. It is known that the carbon in permafrost is easily decomposable into carbon dioxide and methane if temperatures rise. The potential scale of carbon release from thawing permafrost would be self sustaining and so great that it would have a major effect on the climate even if all greenhouse gas production by humans stopped completely.  
Economic activity
  • Economic activity - Economic projections show that some economic activity is insensitive to changes in temperature but that some are affected. Basically, cooler and richer parts of the globe (e.g. Europe) might benefit economically from temperature increases, but hotter and poorer parts (South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa) would suffer considerably.

recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes the effect that a rise of 1.5ºC would have on the climate. At the current rate of emissions this point will be reached in just 13 years.
Prof Field completed his talk by listing some unknowns, or uncertainties, that exist in predicting the future of our climate:
  • Could be the sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gas emissions be more sensitive than we realise, resulting in greater warming than currently predicted?
  • What about ecosystem feedback such as the thawing of the permafrost?
  • What is the sensitivity of the climate to extreme events such as wild fires?
  • What about the cascade effect where one extreme event, e.g. flooding, leads on to other effects such as a disease outbreak?
  • What level of adaption is possible where we change how we live to react to changes in the climate?
  • To what extent can we build a better world by integrating mitigation, adaptation and human development?

All together a sober and well presented argument for more activity in countering and managing climate change.

(64) Using microalgae to make surgical sutures more efficient

Stacks Image 127
Surgical sutures are the standard way of closing wounds. However, their role is purely mechanical and they do not play any bioactive role. Chilean scientists at a number of research facilities have just developed a fascinating role for microalgae in improving the efficiency of sutures.

It is recognised that oxygen and a number of pro-regenerative growth factors are key players in the wound healing process. Dr Jose Egana (above) and his colleagues have developed a photosynthetic suture that, in addition to a mechanical role, can release at the site of the wound oxygen and the human growth factors VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor), PDGF-BB (Platelet-Derived Growth Factor BB), or SDF-1 (Stromal Cell Derived Factor)

They have accomplished this by incubating lengths of suture in a culture of a genetically modified, cell-wall deficient, strain of the microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The cells of the microalgae attach themselves to the surface of the sutures.

The mechanical strength of the sutures, and their ability to resist the effects of freezing, were not compromised and the release of oxygen and growth factors was confirmed.

It is proposed to take this work further by applying the same principles to organ transplants and oncology therapies to eliminate cancer cells.

(63) Using composting sites to produce biofuel, methane and biochar

In-vessel composting facility
There are two microbial-based technologies that are successfully used to divert the organic fraction of municipal solid wastes (MSW) from landfill sites - composting and anaerobic digestion.

This diversion is relevant to climate change in that when organic matter decomposes in landfill sites methane is generated. This methane is potentially released into the atmosphere where it acts as a greenhouse gas.

Commercial composting operations use windrows, aerated static piles or in-vessel systems. The product is an agricultural compost. Alternatively, MSW can be anaerobically digested to produce methane that is burned in a gas engine to generate electricity. A solid or liquid digestate is also produced that can be used as an agricultural fertilizer.

Integrating composting with other technologies

I have a strong interest in the integration of microbial-based technologies. I was therefore very interested to see a document recently published by the Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Ecology called Advancing Organic Management in Washington State. The paper states that in 2014, 258 million tonnes of MSW were generated in the USA with only 34.6% recycled.

The paper looks at opportunities for producing not just low-value agricultural compost at composting facilities but also high-value products. The authors suggest that integrating the composting process with other technologies to construct different forms of biorefineries will accomplish this.

In particular they look at producing alternative jet fuel (AJF) which will have the effect of reducing the carbon footprint of its manufacture and lowering costs. They also look at integrating composting with anaerobic digestion and the production of biochar. They evaluate the mass and energy balances of a number of technology combinations and assess their economic viability.

The composting baseline

The authors designed a hypothetical composting facility with the following characteristics. This was used as the basis for all the integration models studied:

  • A capacity of 160,000 wet tonnes of MSW a year
  • A daily throughput of 667 tonnes a day
  • Wood chips used as a bulking agent
  • Windrow composting
  • A total of 8 weeks processing

Technologies for producing alternative jet fuel (AFJ)

Five technologies were considered:

The various scenarios for a biorefinery using these technologies are shown in the following figure.
Stacks Image 138

Comparison of different scenarios

  • The minimum selling prices (MSP) for the products generated by each of the AFJ technologies used on their own were calculated and were found to be higher than current market prices.
  • It was determined that cases using Virent’s BioForming, anaerobic digestion and fast hydrolysis as standalone technologies were not financially viable with a tipping fee of $60/tonne. However, they could be viable if the tipping fees, or site capacities, were increased.
  • It was determined that cases using slow pyrolysis or LanzaTech’s ATJ as standalone technologies were financial viable with a tipping fee of $60/tonne.
  • Most importantly, it was found that integrating these standalone AFJ technologies with a composting operation allowed a reduction of both capital and operating costs. This resulted in a reduction in the MSPs of 29-46% compared to standalone AFJ technologies.
  • The conclusion of the study is that composting facilities can be used as a platform for the production of a variety of high-value products (fuel, methane, and biochar) when integrated with these other technologies.

This kind of work is supportive of the concept of multi-technology integration in the form of a biorefinery to reduce costs and increase the range of products made.

(62) Thawing permafrost and climate change

Distribution of permafrost
Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that remains at or below 0ºC  (32ºF) for at least two years and can range from 1 - 1,000 meters in depth. It is found in Greenland, Alaska, Russia, China and Eastern Europe and covers approximately 22.8 million square kilometers (8.8 million square miles). That’s about 24% of the land surface of the Northern Hemisphere. 

Permafrost represents one of the largest natural reserves of organic carbon in the world. Recent work and model projections on the effect of soil warming indicate that the carbon in permafrost soil will be increasingly vulnerable to decomposition into the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. This would result in a positive feedback mechanism amplifying further warming.

A gradual thawing of the permafrost is currently taking place. The upper layer of soil that is seasonally thawed is getting thicker.  Once thawed, soil microorganisms convert the carbon into carbon dioxide and methane (21 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide). This process is already incorporated into many climate models. It has been generally thought to have minimal effect as the warming also stimulates the growth of plants. This counterbalance the carbon release by utilizing the carbon dioxide in
photosynthesis (the process by which plants and algae convert solar energy into chemical energy).

The results of a 7-year laboratory
study on thawing permafrost were published in Nature Climate Change in March of this year. The researchers had to wait for 3 years before the bacteria capable of producing methane were present to produce detectable levels. The team also found that in the absence of oxygen, equal amounts of carbon dioxide and methane are produced. This means that methane production by this process can have a significant effect on the climate.  Their calculations also show that the permafrosts of Northern Europe, Northern Asia and North America could produce 1 gigaton (1x109 tonnes) of methane and 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100, but with uncertainties depending on whether the soils are wet or dry. NASA has carried out extensive studies on permafrost and the nature and implications of its thawing in terms of the release of methane.  

One new concern is the concept of ‘abrupt thawing’, a process that can take place under a type of Artic lake, called a
thermokarst lake (see below - bubbles produced in a thermokarst lake), that forms as permafrost thaws. The implications of abrupt thawing would be the release of permafrost-derived methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 
Thermokastst lake
A study published in Nature Communications in August this year looked at the implications of abrupt thawing in detail. The study indicated that an abrupt thaw accelerates the mobilisation of carbon in the permafrost by 125-190% compared to gradual thaw alone. The authors recommend that these results should be incorporated into system models to give a more meaningful projection.  The time scale for this problem having a significant effect is thought to be measured in decades and not centuries. Even if humans reduced their global carbon emissions, large releases of methane from abrupt thawing would still take place. 

Methane and carbon dioxide are not the only greenhouse gases released during the thawing of permafrost. A 2017
study looked at the nitrogen content in permafrost and estimated it to be more than 67 billion tons. Bacteria in thawing permafrost can produce nitrous oxide, a gas more than 300 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The nitrous oxide problem has attracted much less attention that the generation of carbon dioxide and methane. This study suggests that thawing permafrost may produce substantial amount of nitrous oxide over almost 25% of the entire Arctic.

Thawing permafrost is clearly seen as a major player in climate change.  

(61) Climate Change - by how much are the oceans warming?

Stacks Image 156
One of the great strengths of science is the acceptance that new data may require a revision of past conclusions.

This is particularly true when the new data - or  a different interpretation of existing and published data - reveals mistakes. There has just been a good example of this.

On 1
st November this year a joint team at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and Princeton University  published a paper in Nature entitled Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 an CO2 composition

The authors of the paper were Resplandy (Princeton University), Keeling, Eddebbar, Brooks  (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA), Dunne  (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, USA),  Long (National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA),  Koeve. and Oschlies (Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Germany), Bopp (Sorbonne University, France), and Wang (Fudan University, China).

Basically, their report stated that the Earth’s oceans are warming up faster than previously thought.  This was really big news in the context of concern about climate change and received much publicity. 

The group carried out their research by measuring atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide. The levels of these gases increase as the ocean warms and the gases are released. This concept was said to be “a whole-ocean thermometer”.

The results showed that the oceans gained 1.33 ± 0.20 x 10
22 joules (13.3 zettajoules ) of heat per year between 1991 and 2016. This is equivalent to a planetary energy imbalance of 0.83 ± 0.11 watts per m2 of the Earth’s surface. This figure was 60% greater than the most recent assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

These results were interpreted by the authors to mean that ocean warming is at the “
high end of previous estimates” and that the Earth was more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than previously thought. This would mean that emissions of greenhouse gases produced by human activities would have to be reduced by 25% more than previously estimated to avoid temperatures increasing by 2ºC (3.6ºF) above pre-industrial levels.

If all this was true, the there would be significant implications for policy-relevant measurements of the Earth’s response to climate change “
such as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases and the thermal component of sea-level rise”.  

Serious stuff.

However, on 6
th November, a UK-based scientist, Nicholas Lewis, published a blog entitled Major problem with the Resplandy et al. ocean heat uptake paper.  On examining the data presented in the paper Lewis concluded that the ocean heat uptake was 10.1 zettajoules and not the 13.3 zettajoules claimed. This meant that the trend in ocean heat content was below the average for 1993-2016.  Lewis makes a number of other critical comments on the data and its interpretation. 

As Lewis says in his blog “
Because of the wide dissemination of the paper’s results, it is extremely important that these errors are acknowledged by the authors without delay and then corrected”.

On 9
th November, a note from one of the authors (Ralph Keeling) appeared on the Scripps website. This note recognised two of the problems brought up by Lewis (a) incorrectly treating systematic errors in the oxygen measurements, and (b) the use of a constant land oxygen:carbon change ratio of 1:1. The note continued to say that the paper’s authors were recalculating the results but felt that these problems “do not invalidate the study’s methodology or the new insights into ocean biogeochemistry on which it is based”. It was expected that the corrections would have a small impact on the calculations of overall heat uptake “but with larger margins of error”.

I think the response by Ralph Keeling is laudable. He is
quoted as saying in the Washington Post “Unfortunately, we made mistake here. I think the main lesson is that you work as fast as you can to fix mistakes when you find them”. Keeling issued a more detailed comment on the mistakes and thanked Nic Lewis for bring the problem to the authors’ attention. 

Keeling concluded that “
The revised uncertainties preclude drawing any strong conclusions with respect to climate sensitivity or carbon budgets based on the APO (atmospheric potential oxygen) method alone, but they still lend support for the implications of the recent upwards revisions in OHC (ocean heat content) relative to the IPCC AR5 (recent report by the IPCC) based on hydrographic and Argomeasurements (Argo consists of a global array of floats in the oceans that measure temperatures).

Nature also made a statement to the Washington Post, emphasising the important to the publication of ensuring accuracy and accepting their responsibility to correct errors in published papers. 

I think that Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a statement to the Washington Post, summed up this situation perfectly: “The key is not whether mistakes are made, but how they are dealt with — and the response from Laure (Resplandy) and Ralph (Keeling) here is exemplary. No panic, but a careful re-examination of their working”.

(60) Mango Materials – TED talk by Anne Schauer-Gimenez

Stacks Image 163
Yesterday (14th November 2018) Anne Schauer-Gimenez – Vice President of Customer Engagement at Mango Materials – published a TED Talk on YouTube – Why Every Engineer Needs to Know Something About Business.


I first met Anne back in 2014 when she gave an excellent presentation on the work that Mango Materials were doing in California. There was atmosphere of excitement in her delivery which I later found extended throughout the Mango Materials company.

Anne makes a number of good points about how engineers can, and should, enter the world of business and how important is the drive towards the production of biodegradable plastics using low-cost feedstocks such as methane.

The point she made that particularly struck home to me is the absolute need to be able to explain technical matters in a clear and understandable way to non-specialists [especially potential investors!].

That is exactly the purpose of this website.

Mango Materials is a company to watch.

(59) Making biodegradable plastics from wastes

Stacks Image 172
I have previously talked about Mango Materials the innovative company in California that uses bacteria to convert methane into polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), the basis of a range of biodegradable plastics. The company continues to go from strength to strength in using its technology to make biodegradable fibres, and being named as one of the 50 Hottest Companies in the Advanced Bioeconomy 2018 by Biofuels Digest

Another startup company - Genecis - based in Toronto and led by CEO Luna Yu, (above), is using bacteria to convert kitchen food waste into PHAs. The company says that it can manufacture these products at a cost 40% lower than those made by companies that use corn or sugar cane as feedstock.

Veolia Water Technologies in Sweden have taken yet another approach to producing PHAs from wastes. Their feedstock is municipal wastewater. Their process produces a biomass that contains up to 49% PHAs. This is an excellent example of combining a waste treatment process (removing carbon and nitrogen from wastewater) with the simultaneous production of a high-value product.

These are three great examples of how innovative approaches to using wastes as feedstocks will lead to the production of cost-competitive biodegradable plastics.

(58) Proposed integrated technologies in Qatar for carbon mitigation

Stacks Image 181
A new Company Ronella Group is proposing an integrated solution to some of Qatar’s current concerns about waste management and carbon mitigation

Ronella state that since 1991, Qatar has the world’s highest carbon dioxide emissions per capita. As of 2015, Qatar is at a rate of 39.7 t. per capita, which is more than the second and third (U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia) combined.

The Ronella Group want to implement the technologies - as shown in the schematics above and below - to improve Qatar’s current position on the carbon dioxide emission list and position it among the world’s most carbon-efficient countries.
Stacks Image 185
I fully support this concept of integrating these complimentary technologies to improve the economical and environmental benefits. Qatar is also an ideal country to use this approach. There is already a very large composting/anaerobic digestion facility in operation and the University has an excellent microalgae Department.

Ronella will hopefully provide the catalyst to bring this all together.

57 - IPCC Report - Global Warming of 1.5C

IPCC report 2018 on global warming
The recent publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report - Global Warming of 1.5°C - has raised many heated reactions, both positive and negative.

Most people will rely on the 3 page Headline Statements or the Summary for Policymakers document rather that reading the full report - and at 33 pages rather than 1,194 of dense and fairly impenetrable writing in the full report who can blame them.

In the forthcoming website Microbiology and Climate Change we will seek to look deeper into the report than the Summary and will present the scientific data in as close to Plain English as we can get.

Email me at david.border@davidborder.co.uk if you would like to be informed when the website is published.

56 - Commercial microbiology - Hot topics (3) - Microalgae and aquaculture

Food security is one of the world’s greatest concerns. 

Here we look at how microalgae are contributing to food security around the world by providing feedstock for the rapidly growing farmed fish industry - aquaculture.

Food security and the oceans
Food security is one of the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals scheme (SDG).Oceans play a vital role in achieving food security for the following reasons:
  • Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth's surface, contain 97% of the world's water, and represent 99% of the living space on the planet by volume.
  • Over 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal sources of food as their main source of protein.
  • The UN estimate that the market value of marine and coastal resources and associated industries is USD 3 trillion a year, or about 5% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Oceans are known to contain over 200,000 different species of organisms (probably a great underestimate).
  • Oceans absorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by humans and therefore play a significant role in limiting climate change.
  • Marine fisheries employ directly or indirectly over 200 million people.
  • Many marine food species are being rapidly depleted by over fishing.
It is difficult to overstate the value of marine sources of food. These sources clearly need to be carefully managed.
Food security and aquaculture
Aquaculture is the industrial process of cultivating fish and shellfish under controlled conditions for human use and consumption in either fresh water or marine environments.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published its annual report in 2018 –
The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018. This report emphasizes the critical importance of fisheries and aquaculture for the food, nutrition and employment of millions of people.

In 2013, fish accounted for c. 17% of the global intake of animal protein, and c. 6.7% of all protein consumed. Fish provide not just easily-digested protein containing all the essential amino acids, but also essential fatty acids (e.g. Omega-3), vitamins (A, B and D), and minerals (calcium, iodine, zinc, iron and selenium). In 2014, 93.4 million tonnes of wild fish were caught world-wide, of which 81.5 million tonnes were from marine waters, with 11.9 million tonnes caught in inland waters.

In 2016, fish production world-wide reached the all-time high of 171 million tonnes, with 88% (150 million tonnes) used for direct human consumption. This equates to 20.3 kg per capita consumption. The total value of fisheries and aquaculture sales in 2016 was estimated to be USD 362 billion.
In 2016, aquaculture represented 47% of the 171 million tonnes, and 53% of non-food uses (such as the manufacture of fishmeal and fish oil). The value of aquaculture in 2016 was USD 232 billion. Aquaculture continues to expand while the production of captured fish has remained fairly steady since the 1980s.

Fish production is clearly a major contributor in feeding the world. Meeting the future world-wide demand for fish protein will be the responsibility of aquaculture rather than the capture of wild fish.

Aquaculture technology
Before we look at the role of microalgae, let's take brief look at how fish farms have developed.
The intensive systems for farmed fish have
developed considerably in the last 50 years. Fish farms are getting bigger and much more sophisticated.
In the 1960s wooden cages were common.

Since that time polyethylene cages became the industry standard. 

At the larger scale, hinged steel cages could be used.

Some of the largest marine salmon fish farms, consist of 10 – 12 cages each 50m in diameter, and each containing 200,000 to 1,000,000 fish. These can produce 10,000 – 15,000 tonnes of fish per cycle.

News designs for fish farms are for larger and more productive facilities with greater automation.

Fish farms continue to get larger. One Norwegian company (
SalMar) has produced an off-shore farm that has a capacity of 250,000 m3.

Fish farms can also be land-based. Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (
RAS) recycle the water needed and use the solid waste of the process as biofertilizer. This reduces the carbon footprint of the farm and allows a high degree of control over the culture conditions. The Nordic Aquafarm in Maine, USA is a good example. Phase 1 of this facility has a capacity of 13,000 tpa of fish. Later Phases will increase the capacity to 30,000 tpa.

To grow these increasingly large quantities of fish, equally increased quantities of fish food are needed. This is where microalgae come in.
Feedstocks for aquaculture
A 2013 paper produced by the FAO – On-farm Feeding and Feed Management in Aquaculture, emphasized that providing fish farmers with well-balanced feed at cost-effective prices is essential for profitable production. The correct formulation of these feeds is essential, in particular the provision of species-specific feeds that can vary with different life stages of the farmed fish.
In semi-intensive and intensive aquaculture systems, feed costs can often account for 40 – 70% of production
Fishmeal and fish oil (extracted from wild-caught small fish, theoretically not used for human consumption, or waste from fish processing) have been considered to be the most nutritious feedstock for farmed fish, despite their high prices. High quality fishmeal contains 60-70% protein.
In 2016, 4.09 million tonnes of fishmeal were produced, the lowest level for 40 years. However, the word-wide demand was estimated to be 4.29 tonnes. Rabobank estimated that prices for fishmeal in 2017 were between $1,200 and $1,600/tonne.
Because of these high prices, these compounds are being used in smaller quantities and their use is becoming limited to specific stages of production, such as for hatchery, broodstock and finishing diets.
The global aquaculture industry is working to reduce its use of fish meal and fish oil and find replacements. Alternatives to fishmeal that have been tried include soy meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, animal proteins and fats extracted from animal by-products, and microalgae.
Microalgae as feedstock for aquaculture
Microalgae offer a number of advantages over other alternatives to fish meal and fish oil such as terrestrial crops. Marine microalgae production avoids the use of agricultural land, gives higher yields of biomass per unit area, and need not require the use of fresh water.
The argument for using microalgae as a replacement for fish meal and fish oil as a source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is well presented by one company in this

There is a great deal of research and development work being carried out around the world on using microalgae as a replacement for fishmeal and fish oil. An example is the
Aquaculture & Livestock Feed Initiative operated at the Institute of Molecular Bioscience in the University of Queensland, Australia.
Most microalgae are rich in fiber, mineral salts, trace elements, vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids and essential amino acids, all necessary as components in fish feed.
Cultivating and harvesting microalgae for aquaculture
There are many other applications for microalgae such as CO
2 removal from industrial gases, biofuel production, production of high-value pharmaceuticals, food supplements, cosmetics, and wastewater treatment.
Each of these applications requires particular microalgae species to undertake the task, and specific growth conditions such as light, CO
2 supply, and temperature. The containers used to hold the microalgae during cultivation, and the harvesting techniques also vary with the application and the species employed.

This is also the case with using microalgae as feedstock for aquaculture. Specific species of microalgae are used under controlled environmental conditions. As the algal composition changes with variation in light intensity, temperature, and nutrient supply, the production of a consistent product is not a simple process. Some enclosed systems such as photobioreactors can operate under highly controlled conditions, but at a financial cost.

In order to be of use to the aquaculture industry the microalgae industry needs to make products of consistent quality. These products must also be made at a large enough scale and at an economic cost.
Other concerns in using microalgae include the low digestibility of some strains (e.g. those with thick cell walls), the perishable nature of freshly harvested algal biomass, and the market acceptability of the product.
Regulations such as Generally Regarded as Safe (
GRAS), New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) Notification, Novel Food, and qualification as an 'organic' product can also result in restrictions to market development.
At the moment, 20% of the annual world-wide production of microalgae is used as feed for fish and shellfish cultivated in aquaculture hatcheries.
Microalgae can be used directly for the nutrition of mollusc and shrimp larvae, or indirectly as food for the live prey fed to small fish larvae. Often combinations of different microalgae are used to provide a better-balanced nutrition.
One problem with the cultivation of microalgae is that they require high quantities of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. There is a commercial and environmental cost in producing and using suitable synthetic growth media with these properties.
One alternative is to use agricultural waste water, such as
pig slurry, as a source of nutrients. These wastes often contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. After the resulting algal biomass is removed, the remaining material can be anaerobically digested to produce methane for electricity production. Any residual solid digestate can then be used as a biofertilizer.
Microalgae species for aquaculture
Over the last 20 years several hundred species of microalgae have been tested as feed for aquaculture. Fewer than 20 species have found widespread use. Their use can be divided into two main areas:
  • Intensive monoculture – for larval stages of bivalves, shrimp and some fish
  • Extensive culture – for growth of bivalves, carp and shrimp
There are a number of factors to be considered in choosing a suitable species of microalgae for use in aquaculture feed. These include:
  • Growth rate and ease of culturing
  • Correct cell size and shape
  • High nutritional value (protein/carbohydrate/lipid/vitamins)
  • Digestible cell wall
  • Lack of toxicity
These properties can be manipulated to a great extent by modifying the microalgae culture conditions such as temperature, nutrient supply, and lighting.

studies have involved isolating cold-adapted microalgae from glaciers, sea ice, polar and alpine regions. These strains can include high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs), important components of fish feed.

The following species are the main ones used or being trialed in aquaculture today.
  • Chaetoceros calcitrans - used to increase vitamin levels in shrimp hatcheries.
  • Chlorella sorokiniana - used on its own or in combination with soybean meal for juvenile fish.
  • Dunaliella salina - used to increase vitamin levels in shrimp hatcheries, to improve pigmentation, and as a source of -carotene.
  • Haematococcus pluvialis – is used as a food supplement for fish and shrimps, and also provides astaxanthin that gives the pink color to salmon.
  • Isochrysis galbana - used in shellfish and shrimp hatcheries, also oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.
  • Nannochloropsis oculata - is rich in both the protein and Omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) that are needed for fish growth and quality, in this case Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). This microalga also produces readily digestible lysine, an essential amino acid, that is often deficient in land crop-based aquafeed.
  • Nannochloropsis limnetica - can be a source of high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for freshwater aquaculture feed.
  • Pavlova sp. - used to increase DHA/EPA levels in oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.
  • Phaeodactylum tricornutum - used as a source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
  • Scenedesmus almeriensis - grown as a source of protein, and as part of an integrated waste-nutrient system, to feed rainbow trout.
  • Schizochytrium sp. - successfully used as a total substitute for fish oil for Nile tilapia.
  • Skeletonema costatum - used as a source of essential B vitamins.
  • Tetraselmis tetrahele - used as feed for shrimp and shellfish larvae, also oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.
  • Thalassiosira sp. - used for fin fish, shellfish, and shrimp hatcheries.

The future of microalgae and aquaculture
Microalgae are clearly a major candidate to replace fish meal and fish oil as a feedstock for aquaculture, and there are many more species of microalgae that could be looked at.

Microalgae are predicted by
some researchers to be the most important ingredient in salmon feed in the future and with the potential to replace over 5 million tpa of fish meal and fish oil.

However, in Norway alone, it is a calculated that 170,000 tpa of microalgae would be needed to replace the required 170,000 tpa of fishmeal, and it would take 430,000 tpa of microalgae to replace 130,000 tpa of fish oil. Using an estimated production of 50 tonnes of microalgae/ha/year this would require an unlikely area of 12,000 ha. It is clear that production yields will have to be significantly increased to attack this size of market.

As with many other large-scale potential applications for microalgae, high production costs remain a limitation. If microalgae are to be increasingly used as feedstock for specific stages of fish and mollusc growth their production costs have to compete with the $1,200 - $1,600/tonne sales price of fishmeal.

One alternative that has been suggested is to operate centralized production facilities for microalgae using heterotrophic methods (using an organic source of carbon such as sucrose or glucose) to produce cheaper algal biomass.

There is also much to be done with genetically engineered microalgae, a technology that has been
used successfully in improving the production of biofuel from microalgae by Exxon Mobile and Synthetic Genomics.

No matter what the current limitations, it is clear that microalgae will play a major role in the future development of aquaculture.

55 - Commercial microbiology - Hot topics (2) - Using flue gases to grow microalgae

In this second blog on Hot Topics in Commercial Microbiology I will take a look at how industrial flue gases (produced by the combustion of coal and other fossil fuels) can be used as a concentrated source of carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow valuable microalgae.
The use of microalgae in combination with flue gas has been proposed as a biological way of reducing CO
2 pollution while at the same time producing valuable products for use in nutrition, medicine and other markets.
Why is this an important topic?
We now have proof that atmospheric levels of CO
2, and other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, are increasing rapidly (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Globally averaged greenhouse gas concentrations (IPCC report)

2016, CO2 represented 81% of all greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. (See Figure 2)

Figure 2: U.S. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2016


2016, the globally averaged CO2 levels reached a record 403.3 ppm. The 'IPCC Synthesis Report ‘Climate Change 2014’ states that it is extremely likely that these increases have been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid 20th Century.
The latest (Fifth)
assessment by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) summarises the most recent published data on global warming and its effects. I will not go into this topic in this blog as the IPCC document includes all you would ever want to know about the problem.
Flue gases contain 5 - 15% CO
2 representing levels 125 to 625 times higher than current atmospheric levels of CO2. Clearly, using CO2 in flue gas to grow valuable microalgae is a better alternative than just releasing the gas to atmosphere.
I strongly feel that any solution to an environmental problem, such as limiting the release of CO
2 into the atmosphere, should be commercially viable. I see no reason why this should not be the case if sufficient imagination is applied. It is certainly the case when using CO2 in flue gas as a resource for microalgae.
Let's first take a look at flue gases, and what they contain.

Flue gases
The flue gases considered in this blog are produced by the combustion of fossil fuels by power plants and represent a concentrated source of CO
2 and other greenhouse gases.
The concentration of CO
2 generated in the flue gas varies with the fossil fuel combusted, e.g. coal, natural gas, wood etc. Significant quantities of CO2 are also generated by cement production and iron & steel production.
detailed composition of the flue gases depends upon the feedstocks being combusted, but they typically contain – before any clean-up/scrubbing process that may be carried out - N2, CO2, H2O, O2, NOx, SOx and CO, along with particulate matter, halogen acids and heavy metals.
It is possible to
calculate the quantity and basic analysis of a flue gas that would be produced by the combustion of different feedstocks, e.g. wood.

Carbon dioxide in flue gas is a valuable resource for microalgae
The main attraction of a flue gas as a resource for microalgae is the same reason it has been regarded as a problem – the high level of CO
2 it contains.

Microalgae need CO
2 as part of the process of photosynthesis, whereby they convert solar energy (or light from artificial sources such as LEDs) into the chemical energy they need for growth). They do this in structures called chloroplasts (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Typical microalgal chloroplast

Photosynthesis is divided into two stages (Figure 4): Light reactions and dark reactions.

Figure 4: Schematic of photosynthesis



  • The light reactions take place in the thylakoid membranes of the chloroplast and involve the absorption of light and the production of NADPH2, ATP, and oxygen. This stage provides the chemical energy needed for the dark reactions.
  • The dark reactions take place in the stroma of the chloroplast and involve the reduction of CO2 and the synthesis of carbohydrates using the NADPH2 and ATP.
The amount of CO
2 in the atmosphere (0.04%) is not at a high enough level to support maximum growth of microalgae. The high levels of CO2 in flue gas therefore provide an excellent source. On the other hand, microalgae have an upper limit of the concentration of CO2 that they can tolerate. Flue gas therefore has to be used carefully to provide CO2 within the optimum range of the microalgae
Microalgae that can grow in high levels of carbon dioxide
The photosynthesis carried out by microalgae is an ancient process. Green algae, such as
Scenedesmus and Chlamydomonas, were the dominant species of phytoplankton 0.9 - 1.6 billion years ago when CO2 levels were thought to be much higher than at present.
The ideal microalgae for sequestering CO
2 should be able to grow under high (>10%) levels. Some microalgae can survive and grow well at quite high levels of CO2, and many microalgae have been looked at being suitable to use flue gas as a source of CO2.

The following is a list of just some of the microalgae examined with an indication of the levels of CO
2 that allow optimum growth to occur (Figure 5). The optimum level of CO2 can vary from one strain to another within an individual species.
Figure 5: Microalgae shown to tolerate high levels of carbon dioxide in flue gas

Botryococcus sp. (10%)

Chlamydomonas sp. (7%)

Chlorella sp. (10-100%)

Cyanidium sp. (100%)

Desmodesmus sp. (100%)

Euglena sp. (5-40%)

Haematococcus sp. (34%)

Nannochloropsis sp. (15%)

Scenedesmus sp. (10-80%)

Spirulina sp. (18%)

How are strains of microalgae capable of tolerating high levels of carbon dioxide identified?
The two main methods for identifying suitable strains have been:
  • Bioprospecting - locating individual strains of microalgae in natural environments that can tolerate high levels of CO2.
  • Acclimatizing – training individual strains of microalgae to tolerate higher levels of CO2.
paper just published (The Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore USA, The College of Marine Life Science, Qingdao China, The Key Laboratory of Marine Chemical Theory and Technology, Qingdao China, and The School of Life Sciences, Durban South Africa) takes a rather different approach.
An earlier
paper published in 2017 indicated that a biodiverse microalgae-community-based approach could be used to identify candidate microalgae. These could be acclimatized to tolerate up to 100% unfiltered flue gas from a coal-fired power station over a period of months. In this study, the starting material was a mixed and biodiverse microalgae population, which simplified over the period of the trial to a reduced biodiversity dominated by the microalga Desmodesmus.
In the latest paper, a water sample from the Back River in Baltimore USA, containing both bacteria and microalgae, was exposed to an environment containing 10% CO
2 and enriched nutrients.
Changes in the types of microorganisms present were determined by
comparing the 18S rRNA gene sequences. At the beginning of the trial the main groups present were diatoms (44%), Alveolata - a protist (24%), Thecofilosea, (10%), b(8%), and smaller quantities of several other groups. By the end of the trial, green algae became dominant with species of the microalga Scenedesmus in the lead at high CO2 levels. This method is thought to be much more efficient at isolating strains tolerant of high levels of CO2 than by bioprospecting or acclimatization of individual species.

Using flue gas to grow microalgae at the commercial level
We have seen that much work has been carried out on using flue gas to grow microalgae at the laboratory level. However, the process is only of real use if it can be carried out at a commercial scale. Only at this scale will the process have a measurable effect on the environment or become financially viable.
Let's take a look at what is being done at a semi and fully-commercial scale.
Microalgae have been grown on flue gas both in open,
raceway ponds and in enclosed photobioreactors.

Figure 5: Raceway ponds

Figure 6: Typical photobioreactor

A significant limitation of the process of supplying CO
2 to the microalgae is the solubility of CO2 in water.

The sparging of flue gas directly into the microalgae culture in the form of minute bubbles requires a significant amount of energy and there is a limit to the amount of CO
2 that can be added. This can potentially result in much of the CO2 in the flue gas still being released to atmosphere. Work is taking place on developing the flue gas/microalgae combination at a commercial scale in a number of countries.
A paper from TNO in the Netherlands has looked at two alternative methods to effectively deliver CO2 from power plants to algal ponds (and potentially to photobioreactors). The TNO paper reports on two methods by which flue gas/CO2 can be more effectively supplied:

Amine-based method
The CO
2 is absorbed by a conventional counter-current packed bed scrubber. The CO2-rich liquid is then fed into the microalgae pond or photobioreactor, bringing the CO2 directly into contact with the microalgae cells resulting in a much higher CO2-capture efficiency.  
Carbonate-based method 
This is similar to the amine-based process in that the CO
2 absorption liquid (potassium or sodium carbonate) is fed to the microalgae pond or photobioreactor. However, because the uptake rate of CO2 in the carbonate solution is low, the enzyme carbonic anhydrase (CA) is added to raise the uptake levels to an industrially viable level.

RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) includes the merged organizations SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Innventia, and Swedish ICT. SP worked with the Backhammar pulp and paper mill to take advantage of the excess heat and nutrients in the company’s waste water, along with the CO2 in the mill's flue gas to grow microalgae in ponds. The process was used to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste water.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne, Australia have developed a

(63) Using composting sites to produce biofuel, methane and biochar

In-vessel composting facility
There are two microbial-based technologies that are successfully used to divert the organic fraction of municipal solid wastes (MSW) from landfill sites - composting and anaerobic digestion.

This diversion is relevant to climate change in that when organic matter decomposes in landfill sites methane is generated. This methane is potentially released into the atmosphere where it acts as a greenhouse gas.

Commercial composting operations use windrows, aerated static piles or in-vessel systems. The product is an agricultural compost. Alternatively, MSW can be anaerobically digested to produce methane that is burned in a gas engine to generate electricity. A solid or liquid digestate is also produced that can be used as an agricultural fertilizer.

Integrating composting with other technologies

I have a strong interest in the integration of microbial-based technologies. I was therefore very interested to see a document recently published by the Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Ecology called Advancing Organic Management in Washington State. The paper states that in 2014, 258 million tonnes of MSW were generated in the USA with only 34.6% recycled.

The paper looks at opportunities for producing not just low-value agricultural compost at composting facilities but also high-value products. The authors suggest that integrating the composting process with other technologies to construct different forms of biorefineries will accomplish this.

In particular they look at producing alternative jet fuel (AJF) which will have the effect of reducing the carbon footprint of its manufacture and lowering costs. They also look at integrating composting with anaerobic digestion and the production of biochar. They evaluate the mass and energy balances of a number of technology combinations and assess their economic viability.

The composting baseline

The authors designed a hypothetical composting facility with the following characteristics. This was used as the basis for all the integration models studied:

  • A capacity of 160,000 wet tonnes of MSW a year
  • A daily throughput of 667 tonnes a day
  • Wood chips used as a bulking agent
  • Windrow composting
  • A total of 8 weeks processing

Technologies for producing alternative jet fuel (AFJ)

Five technologies were considered:

The various scenarios for a biorefinery using these technologies are shown in the following figure.
Stacks Image 138

Comparison of different scenarios

  • The minimum selling prices (MSP) for the products generated by each of the AFJ technologies used on their own were calculated and were found to be higher than current market prices.
  • It was determined that cases using Virent’s BioForming, anaerobic digestion and fast hydrolysis as standalone technologies were not financially viable with a tipping fee of $60/tonne. However, they could be viable if the tipping fees, or site capacities, were increased.
  • It was determined that cases using slow pyrolysis or LanzaTech’s ATJ as standalone technologies were financial viable with a tipping fee of $60/tonne.
  • Most importantly, it was found that integrating these standalone AFJ technologies with a composting operation allowed a reduction of both capital and operating costs. This resulted in a reduction in the MSPs of 29-46% compared to standalone AFJ technologies.
  • The conclusion of the study is that composting facilities can be used as a platform for the production of a variety of high-value products (fuel, methane, and biochar) when integrated with these other technologies.

This kind of work is supportive of the concept of multi-technology integration in the form of a biorefinery to reduce costs and increase the range of products made.
5Cl%20%22!divAbstract">method of efficiently supplying flue gas to microalgae using a potassium carbonate solvent in combination with hollow fibre membranes.
Duke Energy has been carrying out a project at their coal-fired East Bend Power Plant in Kentucky using the flue gas it produces (containing 10% CO2) to grow microalgae in photobioreactors. The project also includes the University of Kentucky Center of Applied Energy Research and the University of Kentucky Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. The fraction of the overall amount of flue gas produced by the plant that is used by the process is at the moment minute, but with the potential to significantly increase.

What next?

The CO2 in flue gas is no longer seen as just a waste and an environmental hazard but as a resource to grow valuable microalgae.
The technology is at the critical stage of moving into commercial-level operations and I expect significant activity and progress over the next few years.
I would be delighted to hear of any other commercial-scale applications of this technology.

If you would like to receive notification of the next blog in this
series please email me at
Visit my website at


46 - Commercial microbiology – Hot topics (1) – Harmful Algal Blooms

Stacks Image 221
Over the next few weeks I will be publishing blogs on eight areas where I think commercial microbiology is likely to play a significant and increasing role.

The first blog in this series looks at managing the increasing problem of
Harmful Algal Blooms. (HABs).

This year, toxic microalgal blooms have caused significant commercial losses all around the world, for example in

A microalgae bloom involves higher than normal concentrations of some types of Phytoplankton in fresh water (
canals, lakes) and in marine environments.

Figure 1: Microalgal bloom in a canal

Figure 2: Microalgal bloom on lake Eyrie

Figure 3: Microalgal bloom off the coast of Cornwall, UK

The blooms can discolor the water (typically red, green, blue or brown), have an unpleasant odor and taste, and can produce toxins that kill fish and animals, cause respiratory distress, skin irritation, and gastrointestinal problems in humans.

Environmental Working Group document says that in 2010 there were just 3 reports of toxic algae blooms in the USA. In 2015, there were 15, in 2016 there were 51, and in 2017 there were 169. Significant HABs have also been reported in Australia, Brazil, China, and many other countries. The problem of HABs has been recently reviewed by UNESCO.

Microorganisms causing HABs
HABs can consist of a number of different types of microalgae or cyanobacteria (blue green algae). There are at least 122 eukaryotic microalgae and 20 types of cyanobacteria involved in producing toxic HABs, with new species continually being identified. Current estimates are for at least 300 species being involved.

Toxins produced by HABs
The HABs produce a wide range of toxins depending on the species producing the bloom:

  • Okadaic acid - Dinophysis
  • Brevetoxins - Karenia
  • Microcystins - Microcystis
  • Ovatoxins - Ostreopsis
  • Palytoxins - Ostreopsis
  • Ostreocins - Ostreopsis
  • Azaspiracids - Azadinium
  • Ciguatoxins - Gamberdiscus
  • Maitotoxins - Gamberdiscus
  • Domoic acid – Pseudo-nitzschia
  • Dinophysistoxins - Dinophysis
  • Yessotoxins - Protoceratium
  • Karlotoxins - Karlodinium
  • Saxitoxins – Gymnodinium, Alexandrium, Pyrodinium

Causes of HABs
HABs are often caused by a number of factors rather than just one. These factors include:
  • Higher levels than normal of nutrients in the water, either from natural sources or run-off of agricultural chemicals from farms.
  • Discharge of nutrient-containing polluted wastewaters
  • Increase in ocean temperatures
  • A combination of tides, winds and currents

Florida’s Red Tide HAB
As an example of an HAB let’s look at the “Red Tide” bloom in the coastal regions of Florida caused by the microalga Karenia.

Is this a new problem in the Florida region? No, “Red Tides” have been documented as occurring in the Gulf of Mexico since the
1500s, and along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840s. They can last for days, weeks or months.

The latest HABs in and around Florida have caused major commercial losses in commercial fishing, resulted in beach closures, and significantly reduced income from people vacationing in the affected area.

The HABs have this affect on commercial activity by a number of mechanisms:

  • Effects on human activity can be brought about by direct contact with infected water, contact with air-borne spray, or the ingestion of infected filter-feeder shellfish (e.g. clams, oysters) that concentrate toxins produced by the HABs. The toxins vary from one type of HAB to another and can affect people in different ways:
  • Respiratory problems - ‘Red Tide tickle” itchy throat and coughing. Individuals suffering from asthma are particularly susceptible.
  • Skin irritation and eye irritation – encountered by swimmers and those in contact with sea foam.
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • The effect on sea life can be disastrous with dead fish and other types washed ashore.

Figure 4: Dead fish resulting from algae blooms

  • Pets can suffer from respiratory problems if in contact with infected water.

Those responsible for monitoring the HABs in Florida make a number of recommendations to people living, working or visiting areas affected by the Red Tides:

  • Individuals with asthma - bring inhaler to the beach
  • Individuals with bronchitis or chronic lung disease – stay away
  • Shellfish (clams, oysters) from infected areas should not be eaten.
  • The muscle of scallops can be eaten but not whole scallops (e.g. in stew)
  • Crabs, shrimp and lobsters can be eaten as they do not concentrate the toxins. However, discard the hepatopancreas (‘tomalley’ – the green digestive gland).
  • Freshly caught finfish can be eaten if filleted and washed.

Florida has several excellent sources of authoritative information to guide people’s response to the Red Tide.

  • For general information on the Red tide visit the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) website. Check the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website for approved shellfish harvesting areas.
  • Visit the website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website and the MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium website for updates on the Red Tide situation.

Management of HABs
So those are the significant problems associated with HABs. What can we do to effectively manage the problem?

There is no quick fix but there are a number of actions that have proven effective in some situations:

  • Stopping nutrients from entering water courses - especially phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural fertilisers.
  • Removing nutrients already present in the water courses
  • Killing the microalgae - but killing the bloom microalgae could also kill the food needed by fish causing a drop in fish yields.
  • Harvesting the microalgae – either to just remove the microalgae from the water or to make products from the harvested biomass.

The urgent need for action on countering HABs was made evident at a recent
meeting of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee. Also, a number of organizations have set up monitoring programs to check for the occurrence of HABs, including:

Research is continuing on the nature of HABs, how they are formed and how they can be managed. The examples below are a few selected from my database to show the range of research being undertaken:

  • John Innes Centre (UK) – Studying the microalga Prymnesium parvum, an HAB organism that produces a toxin lethal to fish. This study has found that the application of hydrogen peroxide is effective.
  • CSIRO (Australia ) - developing Phoslock, an absorbent clay that permanently bonds dissolved phosphorus, removing it as a nutrient for the microalgae.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - monitoring & remote sensing of HABs, along with their toxicology and ecology.

A number of commercial companies have been active in seeking solutions to the HAB problem. Their approaches can be divided into three types:

  • Mechanical – the use of filters, pumps, barriers, floating booms etc. to remove algal biomass from the water.
  • Physical/Chemical – the use of hydrogen peroxide, other chemicals, and ultrasonics
  • Biological – the use of viruses, bacteria, parasites

These are a few examples of commercial companies working on HABs:

  • Algix (USA ) - Using harvested biomass from microalgae blooms to make insoles, mats.
  • APEM (UK) – Using ultrasonics, chemical dosing, light limiting dyes, and water body aeration
  • EnviroScience (USA) - Screening for the presence of toxin-producing genes in an algal bloom.
  • LG Sonic (Netherlands) - Using ultrasonic transmitters fitted to floating buoys.
  • Discovery Air Services (Canada) – Infrared cameras mounted on planes to identify and track blooms

Also, the Algae Bloom Remediation Group on LinkedIn has been set up by Barry Cohen of the
National Algae Association (NAA). The purpose of the group is to bring together HAB remediation technologies that have been proven to work outside the laboratory, are scalable, and have a low CAPEX. I am a member. Contact Barry for details.

Several sources of funding have been provided to study the problem of HABs, e.g. by the removal of phosphorus from water courses:

The Everglades Foundation $10 million fund. The 10 finalists in this competition for funding were:

  • Green Water Solution, Florida, USA – Using a two-stage solution removing particulate phosphorus by filtration, and then removing dissolved phosphorus by adsorption through the company’s BioPhree® system.
  • Muddy River Technologies, British Columbia, Canada - Removing phosphorus from water to form a fertilizer - struvite.
  • MetaMateria Technologies, Ohio, USA – Using an 80% porous ceramic “sponge” that removes phosphorus.
  • University of Washington, Washington State, USA - Using a thin layer of proprietary particles (heated aluminum oxide particles) on a washable mesh surface.  The collected phosphorus can be regenerated and reused, or compacted and disposed of.
  • Rocky Mountain Scientific, Idaho, USA – Using an APR phosphate sponge designed to remove dissolved phosphates from water that passes through a column, bed, filter, or any other media that contains the APR solvent.  This can be combined with filtration methods.
  • University of Idaho, Idaho, USA - Using the Idaho Clean Water Machine, which mimics nature in using air, sand, rust, charcoal and electricity to remove phosphorus from water.
  • University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada – Removing phosphorus from water in a gravity-driven system that uses basic-oxygen furnace slag (BOFS), a low-cost by-product of steel manufacturing, to promote adsorption and precipitation reactions.
  • U.S. Geological Survey, West Virginia, USA - The U.S.G.S. technology employs an iron oxide-based sorption media (derived from mine drainage) in a fixed bed. This process also offers the possibility of recovering the phosphorus for reuse.
  • Wetsus, Netherlands – Using a two-step approach in which a rapid sand filter removes particulate phosphorus, while soluble phosphorus is removed through adsorption on a special granular iron oxide material.

Commercial microbiology and HABs
There is clearly a need to address this increasing problem. The scale of the problem is so great, and its distribution around the world so extensive, that solutions at a commercial scale are clearly necessary.

Many of the proposed solutions have only been proven at a laboratory or pilot scale and have yet to be shown to be cost-effective at the required commercial scale.

This move from laboratory scale to commercial scale will only work if there is a thorough understanding of the biological processes involved in the creation and activity of the HABs.

There are many companies already active in this area with more joining as the importance of the problem has become clearer.

I have no doubt that the management of HABs will be a major activity for commercial microbiology in the next few years.

[As an aside, I am making available a number of excellent books on composting, anaerobic digestion and microalgae that I no longer need. Please see details on the Store Page.]

If you would like to receive notification of the next blog in this series please email me at david.border@davidborder.co.uk


45 - Using microalgae to warn of warming oceans

Stacks Image 230
The Fifth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates a rise of the global mean surface temperature ranging from 0.5ºF (0.3ºC) – 8.6ºF (4.8ºC) by the end of the 21st century (chart from US EPA).

Phytoplankton (bacteria, cyanobacteria, diatoms, dinoflagellates, green algae and coccolithophores) play an important role in carbon remediation through carbon dioxide sequestration in oceans.

The possible effect of temperature increase on the diversity and distribution of phytoplankton is causing concern. If changes are significant the stability of the oceanic ecosystem may be compromised.

The growth of phytoplankton is temperature sensitive. The temperature growth response varies widely from one group to another and between species and strains within individual genera, as does the ability to adapt to short-term and long-term changes in temperature.

The authors of a recent
report propose that changes in the structure and diversity of marine phytoplankton communities may reflect changes in global temperature.

The report studied the thermotolerance and thermal growth response of eleven strains of the genus
Micromonas (a green alga) under laboratory conditions. Strains of this genus exist in marine ecosystems from polar to tropical regions and it is thought that they can form a useful model in exploring the effect of temperature increases. This work demonstrated that the distribution of Micromonas accurately represented the distribution of phytoplankton as a whole.

The eleven strains (from four species of
Micromonas) were grown at temperatures ranging from 39ºF (4ºC) to 93ºF (34ºC). All showed a typical asymmetric growth response to temperature, with maximum specific growth rates ranging from 45ºF (7ºC) to 86ºF (30ºC) depending upon the strain. It was found that this data related to the temperature of the environment from which each strain was isolated. Strains isolated from arctic regions grew well in a much narrow range of temperatures than those from warmer environments.

The report proposes that strains of
Micromonas can therefore be used as ‘sentinel’ organisms to represent phytoplankton as a whole. They can be used to follow the evolution of phytoplankton in response to changes in temperature, and possibly to rapidly detect tipping points.

Stacks Image 238

44 - Anaerobic digestion in China - 3 - A possible model for the future

This third blog on the development of anaerobic digestion in China takes a brief look at recent research being carried out by some of the Chinese academic institutions.
Stacks Image 256

43 - Anaerobic digestion in China - 2 - sludge to energy

Cities in China have grown rapidly over the last few decades. Sewage sludge – the result of municipal sewage treatment – has the potential to cause significant problems if not treated and handled correctly.
Stacks Image 274

42 - Anaerobic digestion in China

The role that anaerobic digestion (AD) currently plays in China, and some expected developments, will be covered in a number of my blogs over the next few weeks.

41 - Using algal biomass to improve agricultural and greenhouse soils

Algal blooms have been in the news a lot this year by causing major problems in rivers, lakes and the marine environment. So far, little work has been carried out to quantify the potential use of this vast amount of algal biomass in improving agricultural soil quality and crop nutrition.

40 - Methane uptake by forest soils is declining

Methane (CH4) is recognised as being an important greenhouse gas. – 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

39 - Biodegradation of PHA-type plastics

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, sapien platea morbi dolor lacus nunc, nunc ullamcorper. Felis aliquet egestas vitae, nibh ante quis quis dolor sed mauris. Erat lectus sem ut lobortis, adipiscing ligula eleifend, sodales fringilla mattis dui nullam. Ac massa aliquet.

38 - Using bacteria to produce electricity in space

I have a continuing interest in studies that show how microorganisms behave in space and how they can be used to make long-term survival in space achievable (see my earlier blogs about the exciting work that Mango Materials is carrying out with NASA).

37 - Soils are becoming less effective as a carbon sink as the earth warms

The rate at which microorganisms are transferring carbon from soil to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide is increasing. This process is happening faster than plants taking in carbon through the process of photosynthesis.

36 - Using non-food plant substrates to grow microalgae - Los Alamos

Many microalgae can produce large quantities of lipids that can be directly converted to biofuels. However, as with all commercial exploitations of microalgae, the viability of the application depends on the economics of the process.

35- Using DNA in living bacteria to store information

The volume of digital data – photos, videos and text - is predicted to reach 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020, presenting a huge challenge to find a means of storing this vast, and continually increasing, volume of data.

34 - Consortia of cyanobacteria, microalgae and bacteria in desert soils

On 7th May this year I published a blog describing the exciting work being carried out by Kira Schipper at Qatar University. I return to desert regions again in this blog.

33 - Using bacteria and algae to produce biodegradable plastics - 3 - A brief history

A French microbiologist - Maurice Lemoigne (see photograph) - published in 1926 the first paper on the occurrence of a form of PHA - poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) - in the bacterium Bacillus megaterium.

32 - Using bacteria and algae to produce biodegradable plastics - 2 - Types of plastics

In the previous blog of this series (1) I identified polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) as the products of some bacteria and algae that can act as biodegradable replacements for existing petroleum-based plastics.

31 - Using bacteria and algae to produce biodegradable plastics - 1

The problems caused by the accumulation of non-biodegradable, petroleum-based plastics in the environment are well know. As a result, there is much interest in developing biodegradable plastics from non-petroleum sources.

30 - Diatoms used to increase the efficiency of solar cells by 60%

EU Life (http://eu-life.eu/), an alliance of top EU research centres working in the life sciences, has just awarded €1.7 million ($1.97 million) to the Swedish Algae Factory (http://swedishalgaefactory.com/). T

29 - Using anaerobic digestate to grow microalgae

The case for integrating anaerobic digestion (AD) and the cultivation of microalgae continues to grow.

28 - Using macroalgae (seaweed) for carbon dioxide mitigation

A farmer cultivates seaweed off the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. 

27 - Reducing ammonia inhibition before anaerobic digestion of poultry manure

The anaerobic digestion of poultry manure is limited by the toxic effect of ammonia in the feedstock. Many different procedures have been developed to reduce or remove the problem by stripping away the ammonia before digestion.
 Page 1  >>