ERL Algae Cultivation Testbed

Testbed Overview

The algae cultivation testbed at New Mexico State University has been in operation since late 2010 with funding from the DOE through the NAABB consortium and from the Air Force Research Laboratory. The testbed is located one half mile from the main campus at NMSU on the Fabian Garcia Agricultural Science Station [See aerial view]. Station amenities include Wifi – internet access, a meeting room, weather station, PAR sensors. Utilities available directly at the algae cultivation testbed include municipal water, gas, 700 lb CO2-dewar flask service, and 110 and 480V electrical service. Studies with secondary- and tertiary-treated Las Cruces municipal waste waters for nutrient capture can also be conducted in all the cultivation systems outlined below.

Testbed cultivation equipment Facilities include a 4,000 L outdoor photobioreactor from Solix Biosystems and four R&D open raceway reactors, each with 600 L operating volumes. The outdoor cultivation systems are complemented by a continuous flow centrifuge for harvesting that operates at 17,000 rpm and 10 L/min to produce algae paste at ~30% solids. Production capacity of the Solix system is ~200 Kg/year. The four raceway systems yield another 25-30 Kg biomass per year. The Solix system is consists of twenty 200-L plastic bioreactor chambers that can be run at two different air/CO2 mixtures simultaneously. It also contains an integrated inoculum scale up system composed of two 14 L chambers and 6 28 L chambers with an independent sparge gas source. The inoculum chambers can be used for growth of different strains of algae than the 200-L chambers. Temperature of the chambers is controlled by a water-filled basin that is cooled in the summer and heated in the winter. Operational range is ~10-35 C. Closed systems for growth of thermo-tolerant algae in bags that heat via passive solar gain are expected to be available in the near future. Addition of several 60,000 L raceway systems are contemplated. For more information contact Dr. Peter Lammers at (575) 646-7458.

Greenhouse space for algae cultivation trials is located immediately adjacent to the outdoor testbed facilities on the Fabian Garcia site. The greenhouse is equipped with twenty 7-L bubble-column reactors for experimentation under controlled and contained conditions. Large CO2 Dewar flask and gas mixers service the greenhouse cultuvation space. For more information contact Dr. Adrian Unc at (575) 646-1037.

Equipment and facilities for indoor algal cultivation including programmable lighted temperature-controlled incubators, chemostats, microtiter plate formats, tube cultures and 20 L carboys. Facilities are adaptable for culturing algae in a variety of environmental conditions, including variable levels of light CO2, oxygen and temperature, all at scales from microliters to 20 L. Services for the algae community NMSU maintains stocks of six Nannochloropsis strains verified by 18S rRNA-sequence. A small collection of additional microalgae is available for cultivation trials. For more information contact Dr. Wayne Van Voorhies at (575) 646-8610.

Analytical Services

A large variety of analytical systems are available on the main campus to support community activities at the NMSU testbed. Analysis of cultivation community dynamics is supported by the availability of a GuavaCyte flow cytometer, a Fluid Imaging “FlowCam” system, numerous microscopes and a dedicated confocal microscope service facility. Molecular biology laboratories for 16S/18S rRNA metagenomics are also available including a Roche 454 GS-FLX sequencing service operated in the Department of Biology and a ABI sequencing service center operated by the Molecular Biology Program. For more information contact Dr. Wiebke J. Boeing at (575) 646-1707.

Biomass chemical analysis services available at NMSU are operated by Dr. Tanner. Complete lipidome determinations are available via the FT-ICR Mass Spectrometer (LTQ-FT, Thermo) and electrospray robot. LC/MS is also available (LTQ, Thermo) along with ICP-MS and GC-MS systems with auto samplers for FAME analyses. Automated extraction services from extensive sample preparation systems support the laboratory work. For more information contact Dr. Tanner Schaub at (575) 646-5156.

Growth rate and photosynthesis measurements are supported by a variety of systems based on fluorescence analysis and sensitive CO2/O2 measurement systems. These include a CO2 analyzer (Li-Cor 6262, 6252 Sable Systems CA-10), paramagnetic and fuel cell based oxygen analyzers, YSI dissolved oxygen meters, numerous mass-flow meters for regulating gas flow and making gas mixtures, low permeability temperature controlled chambers, PAM fluorometer and PAR sensor, a micro bomb calorimeter (total energy content of <20mg algal biomass. For more information contact Dr. Wayne Van Voorhies at (575) 646-8610.

Biomass to Fuel Processing

A large variety of equipment is available for lipid extraction and fuel conversion in the Chemical Engineering laboratory of Professor Shuguang Deng Systems are listed below.

  • SFE-2000F2-1-C50 extraction/reaction system (Waters) (2-L, 0-600 bar, 0-150 C)
  • HPR-Series reactor (Supercritical Fluid Technologies, 2-L, 0-400 bar, 0-400 C)
  • Synthos 3000 microwave reactor system (Anton Paar, 8×100 ml, 0-80 bar, 0-350 C)
  • Parr 4593 Micro-reactor with a 4843-controller ( 0-150 bar and 0-350 C)
  • Parr Series 5400 continuous flow tubular reactor system (0-200 bar and 0-350 C)
  • CDS Analytical pyrolyzer (0-1100 C, 0-20 bar)
  • Magnetic suspension balance (Rubotherm, 77-773 K and 0-500 bar)
  • Agilent 7890A GC-MS with an auto-sampler
  • Perkin-Elmer SPECTRUM 400 MIR/NIR DTGS FT-IR with in-situ capability
  • Perkin-Elmer LAMBDA 35 UV-vis
  • Perkin-Elmer Elan-DRC-e ICP-MS
  • Perkin Elmer HPLC-MS
  • Perkin Elmer Pyris I thermogravimetric analyzer

For more information contact Dr. Shuguang Deng at (575) 646-4346.

Co-Products from Algae Biomass

Utilization of biofuel co-products by the livestock industry provides opportunity to garner additional revenue from what some may consider a waste product. In the algal biofuel production process, lipid is separated from the algal cell. The lipid is refined to produce transportation and aviation biofuels while the lipid extracted algal biomass (LEA) could be used in a variety of industries and could represent a potential revenue stream. Use of the LEA in livestock diets could be a potential high volume market for LEA. Dr. Shanna Ivey [(575) 646-2514] in the Animal and Range Sciences Department at NMSU is equipped with facilities that can test the value of LEA in the lab to full-scale cattle experiments in commercial settings.

The facilities include:

  • Nutrition and Rumen Microbiology Laboratory
    Rumen microbiology laboratory is equipped with continuous flow fermenters to evaluate small batches of LEA for use as a livestock feed. Equipment is also available for nutrient analysis.
  • Large Animal Laboratory
    Outdoor housing for cattle, sheep, goats, horses
  • Animal Nutrition & Physiology Research Complex
    Located on.campus provides indoor housing for sheep and cattle in group pens or individual stalls
  • Corona Range and Livestock Center
    28,000 acre ranch for cattle and sheep research
  • Clayton Livestock Research Center 
    1,000 head cattle feedlot
  • Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center 
    64,000 acre cattle ranch located 20 miles north of Las Cruces


NMSU provides economic and environmental analysis services to the algal industry. We have expertise in the construction of models that develop estimates of product yield, revenues, capital cost, operating cost, profitability, resource use, and issues of economy of scale. We also have expertise in analyzing macroeconomic issues of the potential impact on employment, tax revenues, and economic output using IMPLAN and REMI.

For additional information please contact Dr. Meghan Downes at (575) 646-2113.