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From the Newsletter (Vol 2, Iss 1): After Biodiesel–Safety and Impacts of Feeding Algae Meal to Sheep

February 8, 2010

[Source: Sarah Lupis for ILE’s The Salt Lick, Vol 2, Issue 1]

You know it as pond scum, seaweed, and the slippery green stain on river rocks, but starting soon, sheep at Colorado State University will call it dinner. We’re talking about algae, a diverse group of living organisms once considered plants, but they may actually be more closely related to bacteria. Algae are photosynthetic, producing their own energy from sunlight and can be single-celled organisms or complex, multi-cellular organisms like seaweed.

Algae have recently emerged as one of the most promising sources for biodiesel production, at a time when the price of other biofuel alternatives such as corn, soy, and rice continue to increase. Algae’s growth and productivity is significantly greater than crops like soybeans, and algae production does not compete with use of agricultural lands. Algae production facilities do not require soil for growth, use 99% less water than conventional agriculture, and can be located on non-agricultural land and utilize poor quality water.

One of the very important economical issues in the booming business of algae growth and production is the ability to use algae residue for animal feed. After algae have, in essence, been “squeezed”, for biodiesel, a residue high in protein and fiber is left. Having already run successful trials on rats and rabbits, scientists now want to understand how sheep will respond to a diet supplemented by algal meal. The study aims to determine the relative safety of feeding algal meal to sheep. In addition, because so little data exists on the feasibility of feeding algae extract to animals, this study will be critical to determine the potential impacts (or lack thereof) on metabolism and final body composition of animals, factors which may influence the ability of algae-based biodiesel producers to utilize their co-products.  This data may be critical in establishing Food and Drug Administration recognition to allow this particular algal meal and algal meal from other species to be fed to food animals. Finally, the data from the planned work will contribute important information toward establishing feasibility and enterprise budgets for livestock producers who could potentially use algae extract.

This study is being conducted by a team of partners from both CSU and the algae biofuel start-up company, Solix Biofuels in Fort Collins, CO. The research team is being led by Shawn Archibeque, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. The project team also includes Terry Engle, Hyungchul Han, and Noa Roman-Muñiz from the Department of Animal Sciences.

Support for this project comes from the $44 million nationwide consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and coordinated through the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to advance biofuels research. Solix is an alternative energy technology company developing the technology production platform for the large-scale commercialization of microalgae-based fuels and co-products. The privately held company is a spinoff from Colorado State University through the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory.

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