Bioprospecting, Cultivation, and Modeling Native Microalgae Strains to Help Address Biofuels Needs of the United Arab Emirates

  • Ahmed Husain Al Harethi

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The United Arab Emirates depends mostly on fossil fuels as energy sources. To diversify the energy matrix of the UAE as specified in the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan, algal biofuels are considered. Salt tolerant algae have many advantages over traditional biofuel sources in that it does not require arable lands and fresh water resources. Algae could be grown using sea water, brine water, or even waste water, in unutilized lands such as sabkahs, flood plains, and desert lands. Moreover, algae are potentially the highest oil yielding biomass source based on annual oil production per hectare. To address the renewable energy needs of the UAE, desert native algae strains were targeted since they need to tolerate the high temperatures of our climate and the high salinities that will result from water evaporation. Desert bioprospecting resulted in obtaining samples that contained a native algae strain from saline water pools in Abu Dhabi deserts. This native strain, which is currently being genetically identified, has a number of unique traits that promise economic and industrial impact. The first trait is that this strain grows in salinities ranging from normal salinity of seawater (33 ppt) up to the salt solubility limit in ambient conditions (~350ppt). This is important to biomass production in open raceway ponds where water losses due to evaporation are significant. The second trait is its ability to excrete a soluble secondary metabolite into the growth media under defined conditions. If the native algae strain is suitablefor biofuels production, and the excreted secondary metabolite holds an economical value, then dual production of biofuels and the secondary metabolite from the same biomass could be possible. An initial algal growth model was constructed to simulate algae growth photoautotrophically and isothermally. Some of the model parameters were either measured or calibrated against actual growth curves in order to be able to simulate the native algae strain growth accurately. Future work is planned to advance the work detailed in this thesis forward. Pure cultures are planned to be isolated from the native strain samples. Moreover, the native algae strain will be identified genetically, and some of its genes will be mapped and marked. In addition, the secondary metabolite will be identified, and protocols will be developed to isolate it from the growth media efficiently. Finally, the algae growth model will be expanded to simulate growth under more conditions, while providing more useful outputs such as the accumulated lipids.
Date of AwardJun 2013
Original languageAmerican English
SupervisorHector Hernandez (Supervisor)


  • Bioprospecting; Energy Storage; Energy Transfer; Microalgae; Biofuels.

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