Educational Programs
Gain Research Experience in Plant Biology

Algae to Energy: Optimizing Systems


Key Content Areas: Photosynthesis, Renewable Energy, Experiment Design, Bioenergy Production, Engineering
Contributors: M. Mitra, R. Shakleton, S. Kenaley, P. Hentchke, D. Stern, T. Fleming
Grade Levels: 7-12; Undergraduate
Time Needed: 250 minutes; 1-2 weeks

Liquid fuels are relied upon for transportation and heating, but environmental degradation and depletion of fossil fuels are leading scientists to come up with new solutions for meeting today’s energy needs. Believe it or not, algae are being considered as one of those new solutions! Encouraged by its fast growth and high oil content, scientists are developing optimal growth systems for algae production and engineering new strains that can produce high amounts of oil, quickly. In the classroom, students design experiments to test growth conditions using the fast-growing algae, Chlorella protothecoides. In the Algae to Energy: Optimizing Systems lab, students create photobioreactors (closed growth systems) using water bottles and other basic equipment.

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Full Manual (includes all files that follow)
Teacher Manual
Student Background
Student Lab
Quantifying Algae Growth
Algae Color Identification Chart

Pre- and Postlab Resources


Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States (4 pages)
Committee on the Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels (2012).  The National Academy of Sciences.

Algae Emerges as a Potential Fuel Source (2 pages)
The Associated Press (2007). New York Times.


Algae as Car Fuel: Possible, but Not Sustainable? (4 min)


Energy 101: Algae-to-Fuels (3 min)

Energy from Floating Algae Ponds – Jonathan Trent TED Talk (15 min)

Algae Fuel – NOVA ScienceNow (11 min)

Interactive Web Resource

Nova scienceNOW: From Pond Scum to Power (5 min to run through all the sections)