With dwindling non-renewable fuel sources creating an enormous energy challenge, the search is on to develop sustainable, renewable types of energy such as solar, wind and biofuel. One of the recent developments in this field comes from New York's Clarkson University, where new findings suggest that small organisms found in wastewater treatment lagoons could be used as biofuel feedstock.

The research was carried out by PhD student Stefanie Kring, who examined sunlit lagoons in Canton, New York during the summer. She found them to be rich in zooplankton, also found in other water bodies such as lakes and rivers, although algae was conspicuously absent.

Its absence was due to the fact that the plankton fed on algae, and had no predators in the lagoons, leading to their high concentration. These small organisms could be useful in the making of biofuel because when they feed, they accumulate oil in their bodies, and it's easier to extract that oil from them than it is from algae.

Besides biofuel, the study suggests that protein and polyunsaturated fatty acids could be harvested from zooplankton biomass. For that, lagoons would need to be redesigned to perform tasks other than wastewater treatment.

Further lifecycle and economic assessments are needed to determine the feasibility of harvesting zooplankton, but there is potential. “These zooplankton grow fast, they select algae from among all of the other particles present in the water, " said Kring. "Collecting zooplankton from water is much easier than collecting microscopic algae, due to their larger size."

Details of the research recently appeared in the journal Environmental Technology.

Source: Clarkson University