High-density cultivation and CO2 uptake by panel arrays of the macrophytic red alga Gracilaria vermiculophylla in a 100 L raceway pond
New approaches are needed for land-based cultivation of macrophytic red algae that reduce costly aeration requirements for biomass suspension and enable high-density cultivation. The goal of this study was to demonstrate the high-density cultivation of the carbohydrate-rich macrophytic red alga Gracilaria vermiculophylla on vertical arrays of panels deployed in an open channel raceway configuration similar to those developed for mass cultivation of microalgae. A clonal culture of G. vermiculophylla, consisting of branched, cylindrical thallus tissues of 8–10 cm length, was mechanically blended using a Waring blender into 2–3 cm fragments and then fluidically injected onto a 3 mm polypropylene mesh support. Immobilized G. vermiculophylla mesh panels were spaced 6.5 cm apart and aligned parallel to flowing seawater medium at nominal bulk velocity of 20 cm s − 1 in a 100 L raceway pond of 20 cm liquid depth. This raceway was equipped with real-time measurement of CO2 concentration in the inlet and outlet gas for determination of CO2 uptake dynamics. Specific rates for CO2 uptake became saturated at 8000 ppm CO2. To match CO2 demand by the biomass under nutrient-replete conditions at 21 ◦C, the inlet gas CO2 was increased from 1000 to 4000 ppm (day 7–14), and then to 8000 ppm (day 14–23) at 0.010 L gas L− 1 liquid min− 1 gas flow. Over the 23 day cultivation, biomass on the panel increased by a factor of 48, with final biomass loading exceeding 10 kg FW m− 2 panel area, and cumulative CO2 capture of 65%. The cumulative average areal productivity within the panel zone of the raceway exceeded 60 g AFDW m− 2 day− 1 , and final biomass density nearing 7.2 g AFDW L− 1 (47 g FW L− 1 ) was achieved after 23 days. Overall, these outcomes demonstrate the potential for land-based raceway cultivation of clonal red macroalgae of present and future commercial significance.