An assessment of the usefulness of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus subsalsus as a source of biomass for biofuel production
Nowadays algal biofuels are considered one of the most promising solutions of global energy crisis and climate change for the years to come. By manipulation of the culture conditions, many algal species can be induced to accumulate high concentrations of particular biomolecules and can be directed to the desired output for each fuel. In this context, the present study involved the assessment of the effects of CO2 availability and nitrogen starvation on growth and chemical composition of the cyanobacterium Synechococcus subsalsus, testing a fast-growing native strain. The control experiments were performed with Conway culture medium in 12-day batch cultures, in 6-liter flasks and 12 h photoperiod, with addition of 2 L min-1 filtered air to each flask. Other two experimental conditions were also tested: (i) the placement into the cultures of additional dissolved nutrients except nitrogen, one week after the start of growth (N-), and (ii) the input of pure CO2 into the flasks from the 5th day of growth (C+). In all cultures, daily cell counts were done throughout the cultivation, as well as measurements of pH and cell biovolumes. Maximum cell yield were found in N-experiments, while cell yields of C+ and control were similar. Dissolved nitrogen was exhausted before the end of the experiments, but dissolved phosphorus was not totally consumed. Protein and chlorophyll-a concentrations decreased from the exponential to the stationary growth phase of all experiments, except for protein in the control. In all experiments, carbohydrate, lipid and total carotenoid increased from the exponential to the stationary growth phase, as an effect of nitrogen limitation. Increments in carbohydrate concentrations were remarkable, achieving more than 42% of the dry weight (dw), but concentrations of lipid were always lower than 13% dw. The addition of pure CO2 did not cause a significant increase in biomass of S. subsalsus nor generated more lipid and carbohydrate than the other treatments. Nitrogen starvation caused an intense accumulation of carbohydrate, but the increments of lipid were small. Despite the fast growth, the cyanobacterium S. subsalsus has a virtually null potential for biodiesel production, given its low lipid concentrations. The high concentrations of carbohydrate combined with fast growth point to the potential use of this species as raw material for other possible biotechnological processes, after a demonstration of technical and economic viability.