Marine Microalgae for Sustainable Production of Food and Fuel (2018-2019)


Climate, energy and food security are three of the greatest challenges we face in this century. Large-scale industrial cultivation of marine microalgae has been shown to be a promising, environmentally-favorable approach for society to meet its climate goals by sustainably coproducing liquid hydrocarbon fuels and protein. Current models, based on the limited available empirical data, have shown that this sustainable coproduction of food and fuel is approaching economic feasibility. Emerging data from Duke, which leads the Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium (MAGIC), will dramatically help to advance these predictions if they are combined with a forward-looking economic and life cycle analysis.

Project Description

Leverage structures and resources from MAGIC, this Bass Connections project will:

  • Provide an integrated assessment of the algal productivity performed by the MAGIC team at the Duke Marine Lab to better understand the factors that regulate production
  • Incorporate refined algae productivity measurements into existing life cycle analyses and technoeconomic analyses models
  • Apply the refined life cycle and technoeconomic analyses models at potential algae biofuel production sites to better estimate economic and environmental costs for different geographic locations and to gauge critical needs for future studies.

The team will compile data and a production assessment report, produce working models and write a report on model outputs.

Anticipated Outcomes

Assimilation of data, report on that data, working life cycle and technoeconomic models, report on model output, summary publication

Student Opportunities

Undergraduates and master’s students will gain valuable research, communication and hands-on data collection/analysis experience, and be partners in a multi-institutional project. Ph.D. students will gain leadership, management and mentoring skills.

Team leaders seek to recruit 2-4 undergraduate and master’s students for part-time summer residence at the Duke Marine Lab to augment the algae production team. These students will make additional production measurements and compile related environmental data for production analyses and continue with the team in the fall and spring. Additionally, for the fall and spring, team leaders seek an additional 5-10 undergraduate and master’s students to engage with the analyses and implementation sections. Both sets of students will likely comprise members from biology, engineering, environmental sciences and other fields.

Courtney Swink will serve as the primary Bass Connections project team coordinator in Beaufort; Sarah Loftus will assist with the Beaufort team. 

This team will have weekly group meetings to report progress toward goals and adjust where necessary, and meet with the larger MAGIC team approximately once per month.

Grading will be evaluated based on existing standards (i.e., syllabi for similar independent study courses, some of which have been team-oriented). The breakdown for past independent study courses is: Participation/Approach/Initiative 33%, Progress Reports and Meeting Interaction 33%, Independent Research Report 33%.


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: May through August, selected undergraduate and master’s students participate in algae production measurement and assessment at Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort; one-week workshop in August with all team members to assimilate and assess production data; develop refined plan for additional assessment and incorporation into TEA/LCA
  • Fall 2018: Biweekly meetings to coordinate incorporation of production model into LCA/TEA
  • Spring 2019: Biweekly meetings to coordinate application of model into TEA/LCA to model geographic regions; report


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Mark Huntley, Duke Marine Lab
Zackary Johnson, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation*
Dalia Patino Echeverri, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
Bailey Slagle, Marine Lab-Postdoctoral Associate
Courtney Swink, Nicholas School - Marine Science and Conservation-PHD*

Graduate Team Members

Sarah Loftus, Ecology-PHD

Community Team Members

Susan Brown, University of Hawaii
Brian Goodall, Valicor
Jordan D. Kern, UNC
Xingen Lie, Cornell
Schonna Manning, University of Texas
Donald Redalje, University of Southern Mississippi
Deborah Sills, Bucknell University
Nigel Tait, Shell
Leda Van Doren, UNC
Kiron Viswanath, Nord University, Norway
Michael Walsh, Boston University

* denotes team leader


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