The ponds in which the algae are cultivated are usually what are called the “raceway ponds”. In these ponds, the algae, water & nutrients circulate around a racetrack. With paddlewheels providing the flow, algae are kept suspended in the water, and are circulated back to the surface on a regular frequency. The ponds are usually kept shallow because the algae need to be exposed to sunlight, and sunlight can only penetrate the pond water to a limited depth. The ponds are operated in a continuous manner, with CO2 and nutrients being constantly fed to the ponds, while algae-containing water is removed at the other end.
The biggest advantage of these open ponds is their simplicity, resulting in low production costs and low operating costs. While this is indeed the simplest of all the growing techniques, it has some drawbacks owing to the fact that the environment in and around the pond is not completely under control. Bad weather can stunt algae growth. Contamination from strains of bacteria or other outside organisms often results in undesirable species taking over the desired algae growing in the pond. The water in which the algae grow also has to be kept at a certain temperature, which can be difficult to maintain. Another drawback is the uneven light intensity and distribution within the pond.
The NREL’s Aquatic Species Program (ASP) used open ponds for its experiments and has also favoured the same for the future primarily owing to its economic value. However, many companies today are trying out with Closed Pond systems and in many cases, with the much more expensive photobioreactors.
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