Solutions for 'culture crashes' in algal production sought


April 19, 2011

Algae can seem quite stubborn and hardy when trying to rid them from your pool, but when it comes to mass producing algal feedstock to be used in the conversion to biofuel, more things can happen to destroy this type of crop than most realize.

Of many culprit organisms that may result in the deterioration of algal culture performance and biomass yield, grazing zooplankton, or so called predators, often are responsible for frequent culture ‘crashes’ and loss of productivity altogether. Except for a few algal strains that can tolerate extreme growing environments that are deterrents to many contaminants, the hazard of predator contamination is so great that sustainable cultivation of many algal crops of economic interest – in particular, oil-producing algal strains on a large scale – has not been possible. Download Full Image

However, with a recent five-year $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Arizona State University scientist Qiang Hu and his research team are studying the factors involved with algal crop failure.

Hu, a professor in the College of Technology and Innovation and co-director of the Arizona Center for Algal Technology and Innovation (AzCATI)/Laboratory for Algae Research and Biotechnology (LARB), explains that the cost of crop failures could be in the multimillions of dollars to this emerging green industry if devastating grazing zooplankton have their way.

Zooplankton are microscopic animals that often are identified as amoebas, protozoans, ciliates and rotifers. All are predators on microscopic algae, which represent the base of the aquatic food chain.

“Without a detailed understanding of the factors influencing the occurrence, population dynamics, impact and control of zooplankton, it could potentially prevent algae from being a practical source of oil crops for production of bioenergy and bioproducts,” Hu said.  

To study the zooplankton, Hu and his team will survey zooplankton contamination in commercial algal production systems, as well as in their own algae testbed facilities at ASU Polytechnic campus, where a number of production strains are cultivated in various types of culture systems all year round. Simultaneously, they will determine living and non-living influencers on zooplankton, aiming at developing an empirical model for assessment and prediction of potential impact of zooplankton contamination on overall algal culture stability and biomass production potential.

By introducing state-of-the-art bio-imaging and DNA fingerprinting techniques, they will develop a rapid, sensitive monitoring and an early warning system. In parallel, they will evaluate several innovative control measures, and ultimately develop a Best Management Practices Plan (BMPP) for prevention and treatment.  

“The comprehensive BMPP will be the key to achieve sustainable production of algal feedstock, and thus enable successful commercialization of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts,” Hu said.

“Results from the research plan to be shared widely with the biotechnology community and the algal biofuels industry, through publications and conference presentations, as well as workshops and training courses provided by LARB and AzCATI,” said Milton Sommerfeld, professor and co-director of LARB and AzCATI.  

Media Contact:
Christine Lambrakis, lambrakis">mailto:lambrakis@asu.edu">lambrakis@asu.edu
(480) 727-1173, (602) 316-5616">mailto:lambrakis@asu.edu">

Phoenix-area foreclosure rate drops slightly


April 19, 2011

A little bit of good news is coming to the Phoenix-area housing market. Foreclosures accounted for just under 38 percent of the existing-home transactions in the area in March. A new report from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University reveals the improvement over the 43 percent seen in the first two months of 2011.

“Foreclosure activity, as a share of total activity, is down slightly from the 43-percent recordings of January and February,” says Associate Professor of Real Estate Jay Butler, who authored the report. “However, because the change is so slight, it’s still unclear whether the initial months of 2011 just represented a short-term foreclosure boost as the pipeline unclogged after banks’ recent mortgage moratoriums or if it’s a continuation of a foreclosure-dominated market.” Download Full Image

The Phoenix-area housing market had more than 11,000 existing-home transactions in March. More than 4,100 of those were foreclosures. In March of last year, the market saw almost 4,400 foreclosures.

The median price for existing-home resales in March (not new foreclosures) was $125,000. That’s slightly down from $127,500 in February and way down from last March’s median of $142,500. The annual drop in price is partly because of the glut of foreclosed homes on the market. For the last year, about 40 percent of the traditional home resales were foreclosed homes sold again with a median price markdown of 14 percent from the foreclosed price.

Overall, activity is picking up in the market, since March is the usual beginning of the home-resale season that lasts until August. While only about 8,600 homes changed hands in February, the number went up over 11,000 in March.

Butler notes, “Sales and median prices tend to increase as the traditional owner-occupant moves to lock in a purchase before the start of schools and holidays. However, even though mortgage interest rates and prices are attractively low, tighter underwriting standards and a struggling economy and job market could continue to be obstacles for the return of homeowner-occupants. The dominant group will probably be investors scrambling to take advantage of the buying opportunities that might be slowly disappearing in many areas.”

In the townhome/condo market, 580 foreclosures happened in March, the same amount as in February. That’s a significant drop from last March’s 660 foreclosures. The median price in the traditional townhome/condo market in March was $80,000, up from $75,000 in February. Still, the median is way down from $94,000 last March.

Butler’s full report, including statistics, charts and a breakdown by different areas of the Valley, can be viewed at http://wpcarey.asu.edu/realestate/Phoenix-Resale-Market-Reports.cfm">http://wpcarey.asu.edu/realestate/Phoenix-Resale-Market-Reports.cfm">htt.... More analysis is also available from Knowledge@W. P. Carey, the business school’s online resource and newsletter, at http://knowledge.wpcarey.asu.edu.">http://knowledge.wpcarey.asu.edu">http://knowledge.wpcarey.asu.edu.