Outdoor Annual Algae Productivity Improvements at the Pre-Pilot Scale Through Crop Rotation and Pond Operational Management Strategies

John McGowen, Eric Knoshaug, Lieve Laurens, Jessica Forrester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus Citations


The Development of Integrated Screening, Cultivar Optimization, and Verification Research (DISCOVR) collaborative consortium operated pre-pilot scale outdoor ponds to deliver much-needed multi-year, long-term and consistent, algae cultivation data relevant to understanding the current state of technology in terms of expected seasonal algae biomass productivity. Over the course of four years from 2018 to 2021, twelve identical 4.2 m2 mini-ponds were run in triplicate sets to test strains and operational strategies demonstrated in small-, indoor photobioreactors, in pursuit of increasing overall algae areal productivity and projected farm yield. Fourteen different cultivars derived from a strain screening pipeline were tested. Through deliberate seasonal crop rotation and improvements in operational strategies, annual biomass productivity increased from 11.6 to 17.6 g m−2 day−1, a > 50 % increase over the 2018 baseline. Both brackish and marine strains were included and four out of the fourteen strains consistently yielded high productivity across multiple years; brackish strains Monoraphidium minutum (26BAM) and Scenedesmus obliquus (UTEX393), and marine strains Tetraselmis striata (LANL1001) and Picochlorum celeri (TG2). These freely available datasets, which represent nearly complete annual daily coverage of cultivation metrics including weather, pond temperature and pH, nutrients, and productivity, are unique in the public domain and seek to fill agronomic and operational knowledge gaps to help in the eventual commercialization of algal biofuels and bioproducts.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number102995
Number of pages17
JournalAlgal Research
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2700-82568


  • Algae cultivation
  • Crop rotation
  • Long-term
  • Outdoor raceway ponds
  • Productivity


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