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Elemental balancing of biomass and medium composition enhances growth capacity in high-density Chlorella vulgaris cultures

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Elemental balancing of biomass and medium composition enhances growth capacity in high-density Chlorella vulgaris cultures

Ramkumar K. Mandalam *, Bernhard Palsson

Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
*Correspondence to Ramkumar K. Mandalam, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109

Funded by: NASA; Grant Number: 10-56943

Keywords – Chlorella vulgaris • algae • elemental balancing • medium design • high-density cultures • photoautotrophic growth

Abstract

The basic requirements for high-density photoautotrophic microalgal cultures in enclosed photobioreactors are a powerful light source and proper distribution of light, efficient gas exchange, and suitable medium composition. This article introduces the concept of balancing the elemental composition of growth medium with biomass composition to obtain high-density cultures. N-8 medium, commonly used for culturing Chlorella vulgaris was evaluated for its capacity to support high-density cultures on the basis of elemental stoichiometric composition of C. vulgaris. This analysis showed that the N-8 medium is deficient in iron, magnesium, sulfur, and nitrogen at high cell densities. N-8 medium was redesigned to contain stoichiometrically balanced quantities of the four deficient elements to support a biomass concentration of 2% (v/v). The redesigned medium, called M-8 medium, resulted in up to three- to fivefold increase in total chlorophyll content per volume of culture as compared to N-8 medium. Further experiments showed that addition of each of the four elements separately to N-8 medium did not improve culture performance and that balanced supplementation of all four deficient elements was required to yield the improved performance. Long-term (24 d) C. vulgaris culture in M-8 medium showed continuous increase in chlorophyll content and biomass throughout the period of cultivation. In contrast, the increase in chlorophyll content and biomass ceased after 7 and 12 d, respectively in N-8 medium, demonstrating the higher capacity of M-8 medium to produce biomass. Thus, the performance of high cell density photobioreactors can be significantly enhanced by proper medium design. The elemental composition of the biomass generated is an appropriate basis for medium design.

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