Effect of temperature, dissolved inorganic carbon and light intensity on the growth rates of two microalgae species in monocultures and co-cultures
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The enormous biodiversity of microalgae as well as their high photosynthetic rates can be exploited for a wide variety of applications including the production of high value chemicals, nutraceuticals, aquaculture feed, and most recently, biofuels. Regardless of the application, the productivity of the microalgae culture must be optimized in order to make the systems economically feasible. One environmental factor that greatly affects the productivity of mass cultivation systems is temperature since it can be prohibitively expensive to control in outdoor systems. Temperature affects microalgae growth rates both directly by its effect on metabolic rates, and indirectly, by changing the bioavailability of the inorganic carbon present in solution. In the first part of this research, the effects of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) concentration (varied by sparging CO₂-enriched air) and temperature on the growth of a model microalga species (Nannochloris sp., UTEX LB1999) were investigated in a turbidostat bioreactor. The results indicate that increasing DIC concentration yields higher microalgae growth rates up to an optimum value (around 3 mM for Nannochloris sp.) but higher concentrations actually inhibited growth. Since increasing the temperature decreases the DIC concentration for a given gas pCO₂, it is necessary to adjust the pCO₂ to maintain the target DIC concentration in the optimal range for growth. In the next phase of the research, the effect of average light intensity (Gav) and temperature on the growth rate of two microalgae species (Nannochloris sp., UTEX1999. and Phaeodactylum tricornutum, UTEX646) was investigated. Growth rates were measured over a range of average light intensities and temperatures using a turbidostat bioreactor. A multiplicative model was developed to describe growth as a function of both average light intensity and temperature. In the third phase of this research, both microalgae species were grown together to explore the effects of temperature fluctuations on the population dynamics of the co-culture. It was observed that Nannochloris was inhibited by the presence of P. tricornutum in the medium, probably due to the excretion of secondary metabolites into the medium that affected Nannochloris growth (allelopathic effects). The temperature and average light intensity model developed under monoculture conditions was modified to incorporate the allelopathic effects observed. The resulting model provided a reasonable fit to the dynamic behavior of a Nannochloris/P. tricornutum co-culture subjected to temperature variations in chemostat experiments.