School of Engineering


Application of chemical communication principles to sustained mass algal culture

Growing algae in large ponds that are open to the environment presents a number of distinct challenges for the algal biofuels industry. Some of the major challenges are related to the introduction of undesirable organisms such as predators, pathogens and colonisation by unwanted algae species that may out compete the targeted culture species. Managing the pond environment can prove both problematic and expensive. Microalgae communicate by releasing chemical messengers or signals into the water which may then be detected by other algae. This chemical communication is used to, among other things; warn of disease and predation threats and stressful conditions such as nutrient deficiency or high temperature. In order to provide a manageable pond culture environment for sustained algal growth we have developed an innovative approach that utilises algal chemical communication to control and regulate the culture environment. We will develop a chemical toolbox to manipulate and regulate open pond cultures. By harnessing the alga’s own communication systems we hope to be able to exert a gentle, yet decisive influence on the growth and community patterns with open ponds. Our strategy is to work with nature, not against it.