Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Katarzyna Ledwoch, reports from San Diego, USA

21 July 2016

In 2016, Katarzyna Ledwoch was awarded a Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 6th International Conference of Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts in San Diego, USA from 26 to 29 June 2016. Here, she tells us how how attending the conference helped with her journal paper on a novel non-suspended cultivation reactor.

‘I am really grateful to SCI for giving me the opportunity to attend the 6th International Conference of Algal Biomass, Biofuels and Bioproducts in San Diego. It was an excellent chance to share my research with other specialists in my field.

‘The conference had a very broad range of topics related to algae. There were 132 oral presentations in various fields, such as algal biology, phototrophic and heterotrophic systems for algal cultivation, bioproducts from microalgae, algal harvesting and extraction, technoeconomic, new conversion technologies in support of algal research and sustainability analysis and modelling. The conference ran for three consecutive days, with a rich oral and poster programme; presentations were given in two simultaneous sections and different posters were displayed each day. Scientists came from all over the world to attend the conference and to present and share their work to a broad microalgal community.

‘My oral speech was presented on first day of the conference during the Algal Cultivation- Phototrophic Systems session. My work is based on a novel non-suspended cultivation reactor called Humidity Biofilm-Based Reactor (HBBR). Passively immobilised systems, like fixed-film bioreactors have shown an increasing potential for microalgal biomass cultivation. Such systems offer many advantages over suspended systems, including higher cellular growth, more effective light penetration, and simpler recovery of biomass and end-products.

‘During the presentation I showed my design of a non-submerged fixed-film bioreactor to produce biomass for high-value compounds production. The system was composed of an overhead-lightened tank where fixed film biofilm was suspended in a 90% humidity environment produced and maintained by a mist generator and a fan. Eight different adsorbent materials (natural and synthetic) and four different microalgal species (aeroterrestrial and freshwater) were evaluated for the passive immobilisation system. I shared the data on primary attachment and explained why polystyrene was chosen as the best attachment material.

‘I compared growth and reactor performance of suspended and non-suspended systems, which showed the great potential of this novel cultivation method. In comparison with ordinary suspended method the system demonstrated lower energy and water consumption, lower overall cost, enhanced light distribution and higher capacity. In addition, the reactor allowed better contamination control over microalgae and much higher light efficiency, in comparison to open ponds. Fixed-film bioreactor can be a promising solution to sustainability problems associated with microalgal cultivation.

‘The current production rate, not yet optimised, is 0.40 g/m2/day, comparable to existing suspended systems. I stressed that the further optimisation of the reactor is necessary in order to maximise the productivity while decreasing water and energy consumption. The scale-up of the reactor is the next step for implementation, this should be fairly easy due to modularity of the system.

‘My presentation was well received by my colleagues. I got quite a lot of questions regarding my design, especially its future development and bigger scale implementation. The suggestion of using my design as an open system inspired me for further analysis of potential scale-up of the system. I realised that my design can not only be successfully scaled-up, but it can also be moved outside laboratory environment and be placed in greenhouse. This would allow even less energy and water consumption, especially in UK climate, with low temperatures and high humidity.  

‘All questions and comments I received after my presentation were extremely helpful. At the time, I was in the middle of writing my journal paper on the novel biofilm-based reactor, therefore I used some of the suggestions for my conclusions and future work recommendations. As well as the feedback and questions I had after my presentation, I also had conversations about my work throughout the conference. I was surprised how well my research had been received, and how many things I still need to consider. It was also a perfect occasion to justify the choices I have made during my work, such as material and microalgae selection and nutrient delivery approach.

‘I believe that travelling to San Diego was extremely beneficial to my research and career. Moreover, this experience will be very helpful when I start to look for a job after graduation. An oral presentation at a well-respected international conference is a very good addition to my CV. This proves my ability to communicate my research in front of subject matter experts. The Messel Travel Bursary that I received from SCI will also show that I am successful in obtaining conference grants, beneficial in the eyes of my future employer.

‘Once again, I would like to thank SCI for giving me this opportunity. I hope that the Travel Bursary programme will continue to be carried out by SCI and that it will help more young scientists, such as myself.’

Katarzyna Ledwoch
PhD Student
Cranfield University

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