Quantitative measurement of direct nitrous oxide emissions from microalgae cultivation

Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Nov 1;45(21):9449-56. doi: 10.1021/es202573f. Epub 2011 Oct 6.


Although numerous lifecycle assessments (LCA) of microalgae-based biofuels have suggested net reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, limited experimental data exist on direct emissions from microalgae cultivation systems. For example, nitrous oxide (N(2)O) is a potent greenhouse gas that has been detected from microalgae cultivation. However, little quantitative experimental data exist on direct N(2)O emissions from microalgae cultivation, which has inhibited LCA performed to date. In this study, microalgae species Nannochloropsis salina was cultivated with diurnal light-dark cycling using a nitrate nitrogen source. Gaseous N(2)O emissions were quantitatively measured using Fourier transform infrared spectrometry. Under a nitrogen headspace (photobioreactor simulation), the reactors exhibited elevated N(2)O emissions during dark periods, and reduced N(2)O emissions during light periods. Under air headspace conditions (open pond simulation), N(2)O emissions were negligible during both light and dark periods. Results show that N(2)O production was induced by anoxic conditions when nitrate was present, suggesting that N(2)O was produced by denitrifying bacteria within the culture. The presence of denitrifying bacteria was verified through PCR-based detection of norB genes and antibiotic treatments, the latter of which substantially reduced N(2)O emissions. Application of these results to LCA and strategies for growth management to reduce N(2)O emissions are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biofuels
  • Microalgae / metabolism*
  • Nitrous Oxide / analysis*


  • Biofuels
  • Nitrous Oxide