Using waste gas from power plant flues to produce a green product that can fuel cars and trucks in the future without unwanted emissions may be a story that is hard to swallow.

But that is one of the projects researchers at the Corpus Christi Mariculture Research Laboratory is working on, and they say once their research is complete, the earth should be a better place for it.

It's no secret that research and development for alternative fuel sources—corn, sugarcane, corn stover and other crops—has been in the spotlight as the search for products that can be used to produce biofuel broadens.

But for several years researchers have been looking at algae as a potential alternative, and now, thanks in part to researchers at the Texas AgriLife Mariculture Research Center in Corpus Christi, producing biomass from new varieties of microalgae is painting a positive picture for the prospect of a greener fuel source in the years ahead.

Dr. Carlos Fernandez, a Texas AgriLife plant physiologist, says work in Corpus Christi involves both raceways, large aquatic tanks located near the Intercoastal waterway, and a series of biomass reactors housed in a laboratory at the Texas AgriLife Center near Robstown.

Instead of growing corn on fertile cropland, Fernandez says researchers are using saltwater from a nearby bay and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from an adjacent electrical production plant to enrich microalgae growth in the high saline environment at the Center—a site unsuitable for almost any other use.

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"The work that we do focuses on quantifying the basic responses of microalgae growth to the environment. We have four bioreactors in the Robstown center where we can control environmental conditions such as light, temperatures, pH balance, salinity, nutrients, and CO2supplements, and we have finished one set of studies where we looked at light and temperatures and their effect on microalgae growth, and we are now entering a new stage of research to address other conditions," Fernandez said.