For algae to power our cars and planes, production needs to be low carbon and cost effective, which means working with natural processes, not against them, say scientists.
Algae could become an important source of sustainable biofuel, as production doesn't compete with food crops for land. But we may need to change the way we grow algae from closed systems to open ponds if it is to be low-carbon and cost-effective.
This is because current algae production in closed systems — usually for cosmetic ingredients — uses too much energy keeping the ecosystem isolated from the surrounding environment.
To overcome this issue, scientists from the University of Cambridge suggest that when grown in open ponds, algae should be supplemented with multiple species that help support the algae in some way. This would make the system less vulnerable to outside influences such as predators.
They say that ecosystems with greater numbers of species are more stable and more resilient to change than monoculture systems made up of just one crop. The scientists have coined the term synthetic ecology to describe the creation of artificial ecosystems with multiple species.