Algae grown for biofuel could be a sweet deal, but without constant monitoring, its growth process can be inefficient and economically untenable, according to a Texas AgriLife Research expert.

Dr. Alex Thomasson, AgriLife Research engineer, has developed an optical-electronic sensor that will automatically measure algae growth stages and allow micro-management of its production of oils for biofuels.

One of the main advantages of using algae for biofuel is its rapid growth potential, Thomasson explained. The other advantage is that algae can be induced to produce large quantities of lipids – fatty molecules that can be used to produce a wide range of hydrocarbon fuels.

Both the amount and type of lipids algae produces depend upon how well the growth processes of the microalgae are regulated. However, the very speed at which some algae grow – some strains may double their mass every six to 12 hours – makes management tricky, he said.