Welcome to the seminar with Professor A Keith Cowan, Director of the Institute for Environmental Biotechnology, Rhodes University (EBRU), South Africa.
Potable water is becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world and there is increasing pressure on food production systems. Also, increasing pressure is being exerted to obtain energy from sources other than fossil fuels. In many regions, the most extensive user and curator of terrestrial ecosystems is agriculture which is also the de facto steward of natural resources. In short, very few institutions come close to the comparative advantage held for this vital responsibility while simultaneously providing food, fibre, and other biology-based products including energy. Since modern commercial agriculture has transitioned from production of bulk commodities to the provision of standardised products and specific-attribute raw materials, we can argue that processes such as cultivation of microalgae and the concept of bio-refineries be seen as part of a ‘new’ and very necessary agronomy. At EBRU, we have been exploring integration of microalgae-based bioprocess technologies to achieve wastewater treatment, water recycle and re-use, energy production, and biomass utilisation. Efforts to establish a fully operational solar-driven microalgae bio-refinery for use not only in wastewater remediation but to transform waste and biomass to energy, fuels, and other useful materials (valorisation), with particular focus on environmental quality and sustainability goals remains challenging.
Professor A. Keith Cowan
Institute for Environmental Biotechnology, Rhodes University (EBRU), South Africa