OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

History of forest battles offers view to future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Some of the changing social values and demands to ensure “species viability” that ultimately caused the collapse of national forest management plans in the 1980s and 90s have been addressed, scientists say, but other topics still have similar potential for conflict.

A historical analysis by researchers at Oregon State University, published in the professional journal Forest Policy and Economics, concluded that many lessons have been learned by management agencies following the contentious battles of the last 20 years, when one Forest Service management plan after another was invalidated by courts due to inadequate measures to protect wildlife species.

A fundamental change has taken place in management agencies, which now incorporate ecological science much more heavily into their decisions, have a greater understanding of what it takes to protect habitats and species, and have raised the bar in terms of protecting species at the expense of dramatically lower timber harvests on public lands.

But the heightened attention being paid to species protection, researchers say in their report, is no guarantee that other forest management controversies based on different conflicts won’t result in the same “crisis management and angry voices” that have become the undesirable norm in recent decades.

“Some lessons have been learned, and some changes made in regulations as a result of different political administrations,” said Sally Duncan, policy research director with the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU. “But substantive change is a very slow process and there will be more crises in forest management; you can count on that. It may just be in different areas.”

This analysis was done, researchers say, to help determine why forest plans developed in the 1980s and ‘90s so regularly ended up in court, and why “ad hoc” groups of scientists who examined the plans so consistently concluded that they did not allow for enough species protection – beginning with the northern spotted owl, but later broadening to concerns much beyond that.

“The plans crafted by the Forest Service in the 1980s were universally deemed inadequate,” said Jonathan Thompson, an OSU doctoral candidate in the Department of Forest Science. “We wanted to understand how the same basic set of laws and regulations could result in such completely different conclusions, and hopefully learn how these types of problems might be avoided in the future.”

The issues that led to forest management gridlock began with the rise of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s, and were intertwined with the post-World War II demand for more housing, increasing urbanization, and timber production gradually giving way to a view of forests as places valuable for recreation, fish and wildlife protection, and scenery.

The Forest Service had become “by default a timber agency” and struggled to adapt to these social changes and ever more conflicting mandates, the report noted, and like many large bureaucratic institutions was reluctant to change.

A host of environmental laws passed in the 1960s and ‘70s added to the pressures, membership in environmental groups surged, and interest groups became adept at using court challenges to halt timber sales. As forest plans began to fail, specialized science groups were appointed to examine the types of species protection provided in these plans, and frequently found them inadequate.

“The species protection standards were very new, and the regulations were often vague, hard to interpret, sometimes almost impossible to achieve,” Thompson said. “Management agencies often did not have the scientific background, ecological expertise or the latest data, all of which were available to the groups examining their plans, and the scientists and agencies often came to very different conclusions.”

Prior to the 1980s, the researchers noted, ecological science was often a minor part of forest plans and scientists in that field were rarely consulted. Now it has become a primary force in these plans and some scientists are being criticized for being “too involved” in policy issues and management decisions.

Another hypothesis the study explored was the level of risk to species. At first, many forest planners believed that a few, isolated old-growth reserves would take care of most species concerns. But for the northern spotted owl, necessary room for protection rose from an initial estimate of 30 acres to 3,000. By the early 1990s, the number of species under consideration was more than 1,000. Species protection moved from a minor constraint on timber production to a driver of planning and management.

The end result of all these forces, researchers said, was a major decrease in timber production from public lands, a disruption of traditional approaches used by the Forest Service, a groundswell of environmental awareness and concern, and major political and court fights.

Many participants interviewed in the research, the study authors said, now feel that problems with species protection are largely in the past, that management agency approaches have changed, more science is being used in plan development, and a broad body of case law is now available to add consistency to the process – at least so far as it relates to species viability.

But the broader controversies of recent years, the study noted, showed a process “crippled by the incremental nature of scientific understanding, institutional problems, and larger social dynamics” – forces that have not gone away.

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Sally Duncan,
541-737-9918

Pesticide Roundup nets 17,000 pounds of toxics; more to come in February

EUGENE, Ore. – Hauling bulging sacks and rusting containers, more than 50 farmers turned in old pesticides, fertilizers, and solvents in Lane County's first agricultural chemical collection program last November. Now organizers are set to repeat the success in an upcoming collection effort, sponsored by the Oregon State University Extension Service and other local agencies.

Farmers in the McKenzie River and Middle Fork Willamette watersheds brought in more than 17,000 pounds of agricultural chemicals, according to one of the organizers, Ross Penhallegon, a horticulturalist with the OSU Extension Service in Lane County.

“It was truly amazing to see all the old chemicals that came in,” said Penhallegon. “Obsolete pesticides such as DDT, aldrin and chlordane, sacks of caked fertilizer, waste oil, solvents with no label…some of the old pesticides, especially those such as DDT, were taken off the market decades ago.”

Another collection event is scheduled in early February. The goal of this agricultural collection program is to remove potential groundwater contaminants out of the area and dispose of them properly at hazardous disposal sites, explained Penhallegon.

Participating growers were under an amnesty of sorts. Growers were invited to bring in and safely dispose of the hazardous waste from their farms, no questions asked and no disposal fees charged, on several days this past November. Normally disposing of hazardous waste from farms is prohibitively expensive for many growers.

“Until the collection event, most farmers had few options for disposing of unwanted chemicals, since many of the chemicals had become illegal to use,” Penhallegon said. The collection of the chemicals was handled by trained personnel and shipped to a hazardous waste disposal site near Kent, Wash.

The southern Willamette Valley is heavily dependent on well water for drinking and agriculture and is especially vulnerable to groundwater contamination, especially from nitrogen. Scientists from the OSU Extension Service, the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, along with other agencies and citizen volunteers have worked for more than 15 years to closely manage and protect the area’s aquifers.

Another similar event has been slated for Feb. 7-9 and Feb. 21 for commercial growers at the Glenwood Collection Center in Springfield. Farmers who would like to participate in this program need to complete a farm chemical survey and submit it to OSU Extension Service Lane County by Jan. 26.

The Eugene Water and Electric Board, Springfield Utility Board, Lane County Waste Management, the South Willamette Valley Groundwater Management Program and other local and state entities also sponsor the chemical collection program.

To learn more about the program contact:

• Amy Chinitz at 541-744-3745, if you live in the Middle Fork Watershed (i.e., south Springfield, Pleasant Hill, Jasper, Fall Creek, Lowell, Dexter, and Oakridge)

• Karl Morgenstern at 541-341-8552 or Nancy Toth at 541-344-6311, ext. 3318, if you live in the McKenzie Watershed (i.e., Leaburg, Marcola, Walterville, Vida, etc.)

• Ross Penhallegon at 541-682-4243 or Audrey Eldridge at 541-776-6010, ext. 223, if you live in the Upper Willamette (i.e., Eugene, Cheshire, Coburg, Junction City, Veneta, etc.)

For further information or to print off the survey form, visit the OSU Extension Service Lane County website at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/horticulture/index.php.

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Ross Penhallegon,
541-682-4243

Environmental Author, Panel to Consider Future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A prominent environmental author and scholar will be interviewed in a panel discussion at Oregon State University on Thursday, Jan. 25, exploring the topic “What Are Our Obligations to Future Generations?”

David Orr, a pioneer of environmental literacy in higher education, author of five books and a distinguished professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, will be the featured speaker at the event, which will be from 2-3 p.m. in the Memorial Union, Journey Room. The discussion is free and open to the public.

Panelists posing questions to Orr include Charlie Tomlinson, mayor of Corvallis; Courtney Campbell, chair of the OSU Department of Philosophy; Cristina Eisenberg, OSU graduate student and president of the Graduate Student Association of the OSU College of Forestry; and Kathleen Dean Moore, OSU philosophy professor and author of “The Pine Island Paradox.”

The event is sponsored by the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word; and the Starker Lectures in the OSU College of Forestry.

Orr and the panelists will explore such topics as the fossil fuels we burn or conserve; the toxins we choose, or choose not to introduce into the air and water, the natural resources we mine or steward, and the carelessness or creativity brought to important decisions that may affect future generations.

Orr is the author of five books, including “Earth in Mind” and “The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment,” and editor of The Campus and Environmental Responsibility.

Orr will also deliver a Starker Lecture, "To Ourselves and our Posterity: Climate Change and the Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property," at 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25 in the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center, Cascade Ballroom 110.

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Charles Goodrich,
541-737-6198

'Getting Biofuels Right' Topic of Lecture at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – “Getting Biofuels Right: The Biofuel vs. Food and Environment Dilemma” is the subject of a free public lecture at Oregon State University on Monday, Feb. 25, by G. David Tilman, an ecologist with the University of Minnesota.

The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the C&E Auditorium at OSU’s LaSells Stewart Center.

Tilman’s presentation is part of a 2007-08 OSU lecture series called “Food for Thought: History, Technology, Gastronomy,” sponsored by the university’s Horning Endowment in the Humanities, in collaboration with the Outreach in Biotechnology Program.

Concerns over rising oil prices and greenhouse gases from fossil fuels have caused biofuels to be touted as a solution to both our energy and climate change dilemmas. Yet available biofuels, Tilman says, offer no real solution. Corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel provide small energy gains, but both directly and indirectly release more greenhouse gas than fossil fuels. Moreover, any food-based biofuels made by converting rain forests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands release substantially more carbon dioxide than the annual greenhouse gas reductions that these biofuels provide by displacing fossil fuels.

In this lecture, Tilman suggests solutions: Biofuels can be produced from perennials grown on agriculturally degraded lands without displacing food production or causing loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction. Similarly, biofuels made from waste biomass, manure, corn stover, forest slash, or thinnings offer immediate and sustained advantages and net energy gains.

Tilman is the Regents’ Professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in Ecology at the University of Minnesota, and director of the university’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. His research explores how managed and natural ecosystems can sustainably meet human needs for food, energy, and ecosystem services.

He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Tilman was founding editor of the journal Ecological Issues. His many awards include the Ecological Society of America’s Cooper Award and its MacArthur Award, the Botanical Society of America’s Centennial Award, and the Princeton Environmental Prize.

He has written or edited five books and published more than 200 papers in peer-reviewed literature, making him the world’s most highly cited environmental scientist for 1990–2000 and for 1996–2006, according to the Institute for Scientific Information.

The Food for Thought lecture series also is supported by the Wait and Lois Rising Lectureship Fund and the OSU history department.

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Elissa Curcio,
541-737-8560

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Prof. David Tilman, Director-Cedar Creek Natural History Area

G. David Tilman

Nitrogen study may improve accuracy of ecological predictions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The pattern of nitrogen release from decaying plant material is remarkably similar and predictable across the planet, researchers have concluded in a new study, which should make it easier to understand nutrient dynamics, vegetation growth, estimate carbon release and sequestration, and better predict the impacts of climate change.

The findings, to be published Friday in the journal Science, are the results of one of the largest and longest studies ever done on nitrogen release during plant decomposition, involving dozens of researchers working for 10 years in 27 sites, ranging from Arctic tundra to tropical forests of North and Central America.

“The availability of nitrogen is one of the key factors limiting vegetation growth around the world, but its release from plant litter can be very slow,” said Mark Harmon, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University and the coordinator of the study. “For the first time, we studied this process at enough sites and over a long enough time period to really understand what’s happening.”

The surprise, researchers said, is that the basic pattern of nitrogen release is pretty much the same wherever it occurs, and is driven primarily by the initial concentration of nitrogen present in the decaying plant material. It has little to do with location, soil types, microbes present, or other factors.

The speed of the process is affected by climate, particularly temperature and precipitation, the study concluded. But the overall pattern, or “trajectory” of nitrogen release remains much the same regardless of the site.

There is significant interest in the way that nitrogen recycles in the ecosystem, scientists say, because it plays such a critical role in the growth of almost all vegetation – grasses, shrubs, trees and agricultural crops. The presence or absence of adequate amounts of nitrogen can often dictate what types of vegetation are able to survive in a certain area, and how quickly it grows. Very little of this nutrient is made available from geological sources.

Plant growth, in turn, is one of the main factors that affects the input or removal of carbon from the atmosphere – an issue of growing importance during an era of global warming. Plant decomposition releases more carbon each year than all of the fossil fuel combustion produced by humans, the researchers note in their study.

“If we hope to better predict carbon dynamics, climate change and other issues, we first must understand these basic ecological processes,” Harmon said.

In plant decomposition, it’s not unusual for the microbes which are decomposing the plant matter to first retain nitrogen from the dying plants and other sources, until they have all they need for the decomposition process, Harmon said. This “immobilization” of nitrogen can actually cause a reduction in available soil nitrogen for an extended period of years, until at some point the plant material is sufficiently broken down that nitrogen in excess of decomposer needs becomes available.

It had been thought that this process might be highly variable, depending on several interacting factors. In fact, the study found that it is pretty predictable, affected primarily just by the initial nitrogen concentration in the plant material which is decaying.

“It was really surprising to see how similar these processes were across wide geographic and climatic scales,” Harmon said. “The basic trajectory is much the same regardless of many variables. A fairly simple model can accurately predict it.”

The overall decomposition process, he said, does speed up in warmer or wetter conditions, which many anticipate as a result of climate change and global warming. In that event, nitrogen should more rapidly be made available to plants, at least initially spurring increased vegetation growth and offsetting carbon losses from increased decomposition.

Less clear is the overall long-term impact on carbon sequestration and storage, Harmon said. That may depend on whether the growth that occurs is in the form of vegetation parts that quickly die, such as leaves, or in wood that lives much longer. So whether increased vegetation growth on a global basis will increase enough to offset global warming is still uncertain, he said, and requires further study.

This research, called the Long-Term Inter-site Decomposition Experiment, or LIDET study, was funded by the Long Term Ecological Studies program of the National Science Foundation. Participants included OSU, Colorado State University, University of California/Berkeley, LSI Logic, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Northern Arizona University, and 23 other institutions that conducted the field work.

A wide range of “biomes,” or general types of ecosystems, were included in the research to increase its applicability on a global scale. Among the sites was the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Range of Oregon, one of the state’s leading programs of long term ecological research.

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Mark Harmon,
541-737-8455

Fish and Game Association Creates OSU Scholarship Fund

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The disbanding Santiam Fish and Game Association of Albany will live on through its creation of a new scholarship fund at Oregon State University. The nonprofit group recently gave $100,000 from the sale of its property at Clear Lake to assist students enrolled in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Through the Santiam Fish and Game Association Endowed Scholarship, the organization will promote care of the natural world in perpetuity, said board chair Dale Wollam of Lebanon.

“A lot of older people have good memories about the association and want to see others benefit from what we’ve put so many years into,” he said. “We’ve had great joy in it.”

Established in 1929, the Santiam Fish and Game Association managed cabins and boats at Clear Lake on the Santiam Pass. Once numbering as many as 800 families from Corvallis, Albany and Lebanon, the group decided to disband last year amidst declining membership. They sold the resort to Linn County Parks and Recreation, and their charter directed that assets would fund scholarships at OSU.

Supporting young people who want to enter careers in fish and wildlife fields is a natural extension of the association’s history, Wollam said. The group promoted wise use of natural resources and encouraged community residents to get outside and enjoy the region’s wild places.

“Without good management, generations to come won’t be able to experience what we’ve had,” Wollam said.

Because the principal will never be spent, scholarships will be awarded on an ongoing basis. “People are welcome to add to the endowment, perhaps as a memorial to those who have been active in the association,” Wollam said.

Three scholarships will be awarded annually: to an upperclass undergraduate, a graduate student, and a student participating in a fisheries and wildlife public education internship. All recipients must have completed one year of the fisheries and wildlife major in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. First preference will be given to Linn or Benton county residents.

“We wanted to help students who are seriously committed to the fisheries and wildlife program,” said Tamara Hamilton of Albany, association board secretary. “Our hope is that the recipients will choose to go and be a part of the Linn County team and work within the community, educating future generations of people who come to the lake.”

The association board was greatly pleased that the county was able to buy the resort, Hamilton added. “They’ve already done things we could only dream about,” she said. “It’s in good hands.”

College leaders noted that scholarships are part of the reason OSU’s wildlife program has been ranked as number one in the nation. Its fisheries program is ranked second.

“These scholarships create an educational legacy in an area where the Santiam Fish and Game Association has already made a significant impact on conservation,” said Dan Edge, head of the OSU fisheries and wildlife department. “We are very grateful to the association for making this assistance available to our students.”

Oregon State University officially launched “The Campaign for OSU” on Oct. 26. Guided by OSU’s strategic plan, the campaign seeks $625 million to provide opportunities for students, strengthen Oregon, and conduct research that changes the world. Approximately $386 million has been committed to date, including more than $60 million toward a $100 million goal for scholarship and fellowship support for students.

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Dan Edge,
541-737-2910

Novelist to Speak on Mountaintop Removal Mining

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The author of a new novel set in West Virginia’s coal-mining country will visit Oregon State University on Friday, Feb. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

Ann Pancake, author of “Strange as This Weather Has Been,” will read from her work and answer questions in OSU’s Valley Library. The event is free and open to the public.

Pancake grew up in Appalachia where, she says, the mountains and their communities are under threat of destruction by mountain-top removal mining practices. In her book, Pancake evokes the powerful floods and disfigurement of the landscape, as well as the humanity of local families struggling to hold on to their traditions and a sense of place.

At the center of the story is a courageous 15-year-old girl named Bant, whose private quest to discover the disaster looming above her impoverished community gives the novel its suspense as well as its heart.

The novel, which took seven years to research and write, is based on interviews and real life events from individuals and communities who have directly experienced – and fought against – the devastating impact of this form of coal-mining. Pancake describes its toxic waste pools and heaps of slurry, and the constant threat of a “black flood” that might sweep away a whole town.

Published this fall by Shoemaker and Hoard, the novel received rave reviews in the New York Times Book Review, and O Magazine, among others. The author and environmentalist Wendell Berry says that it “brings at last within reach of imagination the almost unimaginable description of land and people in the Appalachian coalfields. Its completeness is made possible by its full acceptance of the heartbreak of its subject…it is one of the bravest novels I have ever read.”

Pancake’s previous work, the short story collection “Given Ground,” won the 2000 Katherine Bakeless Prize, as well as the prestigious Whiting Award for a new young talent. She lives in Seattle and teaches fiction writing at Pacific Lutheran University.

The author’s visit to OSU is co-sponsored by the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word and the OSU Center for the Humanities. Books will be available for sale and signing.

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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Esquivel to Meet With Students, Give Talk at OSU for PeaceJam

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel will visit the Oregon State University campus on Feb. 22-24, where he will call on Pacific Northwest high school students, teachers and OSU students to step forward to create a better world through community service and global action.

He also will present a free public lecture on Friday, Feb. 22, beginning at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union Ballroom titled “Human Rights and Justice for All.”

His appearance is part of PeaceJam, an international education program that works with Nobel Prize laureates to engage youth in volunteerism and encourages them to work to transform themselves, their local communities and, ultimately, the world.

“This is the fourth year that Oregon State University has had the honor to host PeaceJam, which is an extraordinary opportunity for high school and college students to personally interact with a Nobel Prize recipient,” said Frank Ragulsky, OSU’s student media adviser and a campus coordinator of PeaceJam.

“It is a memorable experience for students and the benefit continues as they return home and become more actively involved in their own communities,” he added.

Esquivel received the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership and advocacy for human rights and democracy in Latin America.

More than 200 high school students and teachers from Oregon, Washington and California will attend the two-day PeaceJam conference Feb. 23-24 at OSU. A number of OSU students will serve as mentors during the conference. PeaceJam co-founder, Dawn Engle will kick-off the conference.

The students will work in groups of about a dozen on a variety of community service projects in the Corvallis area, attend workshops, and have the opportunity to present individual or school plans for furthering peace to Esquivel.

This year’s community service projects will focus on the Global Call to Action, a movement inspired by the 12 Nobel Peace laureates, who sit on the PeaceJam International board of directors. They are asking youth to take leadership in eradicating world hunger, preserving the environment and leading us to a time of peace.

For more information, go online to oregonstate.edu/peacejam or www.peacejam.org.

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OSU Professor Recognized for Work in Weed Science

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A weed science professor at Oregon State University has received the Weed Science Society of America's highest honor for her contributions to the profession.

Carol Mallory-Smith, an associate department head at OSU's Department of Crop and Soil Science, was named a fellow of the society at the nonprofit professional organization’s annual meeting.

"It's a very select group that receives this award each year – available to only 0.25 percent of the membership," said Jill Schroeder, 2007-08 president of the society. There were three recipients this year who joined the roughly 200 people who have been named fellows since the award was created in 1964.

Schroeder said Mallory-Smith is “best known for her work on gene flow and herbicide resistance. She continues to do some unique research about gene movement out of weeds and into crops or vice versa."

Mallory-Smith is studying how genes from canola contaminate vegetable crops. She's also looking at how substances from juniper trees might be able to inhibit the germination of weeds. In the past, she has studied Orobanche minor, a parasitic weed that attaches to clover and snuffs the life out of it. Found in Oregon in 1998, it could destroy the state's clover industry if not controlled, said Mallory-Smith, who helped identify other plants that attract the weed as well as herbicides that kill it.

Additionally, her work with Italian ryegrass gave growers additional options for controlling the plant with herbicides. She and other OSU researchers also found that crop rotations can be used to reduce California brome in wheat production because California brome seed lasts only two years in the soil.

Mallory-Smith, who was born in Troy, Ore., began teaching at OSU in 1994 after earning a doctorate in plant science at the University of Idaho in 1990.

She said she enjoys the variety of work that her job offers.

"On any day I can be working with five or six different crops and all of the weeds that accompany them,” she said. “I am never bored. The best part of my job is working with graduate students and growers."

Respected by students in her department, they named her an Outstanding Teacher in Crop and Soil Science in 1997 and again in 2007.

Mallory-Smith has been a member of the Weed Science Society of America since 1987 and was its president in 2005-06.

 

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Carol Mallory-Smith,
541-737-5883

OSU Research Could Lead To Bio-fuels Processed From Algae

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University are working to find an efficient method of processing bio-diesel fuel and ethanol from one of the world’s most plentiful organisms – algae – which could lead to breakthroughs in reducing the world's dependency on petroleum.

Applying the findings to mass-produce algae and extract its oils could be five to 10 years in the future, but the advantages are worth the wait, according to Ganti Murthy, assistant professor of biological and ecological engineering at OSU.

Algae are versatile organisms that are "plant-like" but do not have a root system or leaves. Plants pull water and nutrients through their roots and release vapor through their leaves in a process called transpiration. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an acre of corn transpires about 4,000 gallons of water a day. Because algae do not have such a vascular system, they use water only as a medium for growing.

"In a closed growing system,” Murthy said, “algae require 99 percent less water than any other crop.”

Another advantage to growing algae is that varieties of the organism have been found flourishing in all kinds of environments – from the Arctic to tropical areas – and in both fresh and salt water. Therefore, Murthy said, growing algae "is not a food-versus-fuel issue; algae can be grown using waste-water and in areas that cannot support agriculture."

Algae also are highly productive compared to conventional crops. For example, a productivity model estimates that 48 gallons of bio-diesel can be produced from an acre of soybeans, whereas algae could produce 819 gallons – and theoretically as much as 5,000 gallons – from a single acre.

One of algae's most remarkable qualities is that it can grow using carbon dioxide generated from fossil-fuel combustion, according to Murthy. Greenhouse gases from industry and coal-fired electrical-generating plants can be piped to algae ponds, where carbon dioxide is a necessary ingredient for growth. In fact, research has shown that algae can grow 30 percent faster than normal when fed carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion.

At the OSU Sustainable Technologies Laboratory, Murthy has built two small photobioreactors to grow microscopic algae in a closed system. They are simple, plastic cylinders that have advantages over an open-pond system in greater productivity, reduced contamination and better control of growth. It takes about three weeks for the algae—combined with light, water, carbon dioxide and mineral nutrients—to multiply and turn the water green.

The primary focus of the OSU lab is to discover efficient ways to extract the oils (also called lipids) and process them into bio-diesel fuel and ethanol, with fertilizer and animal feed as co-products. The biggest challenge, according to Murthy, is separating water from the micro algae he is testing (Chlorella and Dunaliella), which must continually be mixed with carbon dioxide and light as they grow. A combination of straining and centrifuging is the current method of extraction.

Of the more than 3,000 known strains of algae, Murthy grows both fresh water and salt water varieties. The photobioreactors hold about six gallons of water and produce about .17 pounds of algae with each batch.

"Depending on the algae growth conditions, we can usually extract 20 to 30 percent oil from it, and up to 60 percent is possible," he said.

Commercialization of algal bio-fuel and ethanol is a long way off. Yet, with many questions to answer and challenges to overcome, Murthy is undaunted. "A lot of people are working on it," he said, "It's just a matter of putting it together, making it work."

Murthy's work at OSU has been funded by a grant from the Agriculture Research Foundation.

 

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Ganti Murthy,
541-737-6291