Algae Education and the Future of Bioeconomy

How the Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC) is leading the way when it comes to educating the next generation of bioeconomy professionals.

The Algae Technology Educational Consortium (ATEC) is a collaboration between the Algae Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that sees a future that embraces algae as an essential solution for a sustainable and healthy planet, the Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (DOE BETO), which seeks to advance a thriving and sustainable bioeconomy fueled by innovative technologies, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Together, these organizations have worked to create a myriad of widely accessible workforce development and training opportunities in algae.

ATEC and BETO

ATEC was developed in 2015 out of the recognition that algal production will create high quality jobs for an educated workforce due to the sustainable source of biomass for bio-based products, fuel, feed and foods.

ATEC is currently in the fifth year of a $2.55 million grant from DOE BETO with the goal to produce novel community college and university courses, certificate and degree programs in algal cultivation and biotechnology, and a series of educational curricula that offers students (grades K-16+), aquaculturists, farmers, biotechnicians, and interested individuals a particular skill set enabling them to incorporate algae into their career pathways while establishing them as serious candidates for the next generation of bioeconomy positions and entrepreneurial opportunities. ATEC directly meets BETO mission goals for education and workforce development, supporting the integration of algal biomass in the bioeconomy.

ATEC in Action

ATEC seeks to serve a diverse audience in order to achieve maximum reach and truly increase scientific literacy and overall public awareness of the role that algae can and does play in the production of an array of commercial products (biofuel, feed, food, nutraceuticals, and specialty chemicals), environmental services (nutrient extraction, ocean acidification remediation, oxygen production, carbon capture, and wastewater treatment), and the potential hazards of algae (red tides, toxins, and brown tides).

ATEC Programming Includes:

  • Algae Academy – K-12 STEM kits for in-class instruction and discovery
  • Two separate community college degree, certificate, and course curricula for Algal Cultivation and Algal Biotechnology originated at Santa Fe Community College and Austin Community College, respectively
  • Algae Cultivation Extension Short-courses (ACES) – Part 1: Macroalgae & Part 2: Microalgae
  • Introduction to Algae Massive Open Online Courses (Algae-MOOCs)

Algae Academy

The Algae Academy is a K-12 STEM learning opportunity distributed to classrooms nationwide through which students develop experiments, measure algal growth, analyze data and make connections on how algal production has a positive impact on the global environment. Students learn about the essential need for sustainable resources, current concerns about future protein shortages, and how algae can be a game-changing resource in developing countries.

The goals of the Algae Academy are to excite students about the power of algae leading them towards more advanced educational opportunities offered by ATEC and potential bioeconomy career opportunities.

Applications for the 2020/2021 Algae Academy sessions will be available later this month. Contact Marissa Nalley for more information at mnalley@thealgaefoundation.org.


ATEC in Community Colleges/Universities

ATEC’s flagship programming involves community colleges and universities nationwide that are providing, or in the process of developing, algal cultivation and biotechnology certificates and degrees. Graduates of these programs learn practical applications of farming and biotechnology to develop skills for the algae industry workforce.

Santa Fe Community College – Algae Cultivation Certificate

The Algae Cultivation Certificate at Santa Fe Community College covers the basic science and technology of algae cultivation and provides students with the skills required to work in the algaculture industry or create their own algaculture business.

The first recipients of the Algae Cultivation Certificate graduated in May, 2018 with their degree in Controlled Environment Agriculture, A.A.S.

Austin Community College – Algae Biotechnology

ATEC and Austin Community College initiated an Algal-based Biotechnology Curriculum in the Fall 2017 semester.  Algal-based instruction is inserted into existing course syllabi due to similarity in techniques and instrumentation of classic bacterial and yeast coursework.  Each intro biotechnology course includes algal insertable laboratory and lecture modules.  Additionally, two, 1-week laboratory intensive courses have been developed.  Courses include:  Bioinformatics, Laboratory Instrumentation, Cell Culture Techniques, Molecular Techniques, and Biomanufacturing.


Algae Cultivation Extension Short-course (ACES)

ACES is the extension/outreach component of ATEC and is divided into two parts: macroalgae and microalgae.

ACES Part 1: Macroalgae

This first component of ACES covers macroalgae (seaweed) and is designed for those already in the aquaculture/shellfish industry seeking to learn the basic skills to grow these aquatic photosynthetic organisms.

ACES Part 2: Microalgae

This second component covers microalgae cultivation in a short-course based on a real college level courses. The original focus of this ACES section was to assist the algae biomass industry to improve the required skill set and techniques of potential and/or existing employees.


Introduction to Algae Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

The Introduction to Algae MOOC brings together some of the foremost algae experts from industry and academia to share their experience and understandings of the fundamentals of algae.

This course covers what algae are, why they are important, and why we are interested in them for both their environmental benefit, as well as their use for products. Participants explore the vast diversity of algae including the characteristics and applications of some of the main types of algae that are in commercial use today. This course was produced by ATEC and University of California, San Diego (UCSD). A second algal-MOOC, Introduction to Microalgae Biotechnology, co-produced by ATEC and UCSD is completed, accepted, and awaiting online launching.  Additionally, a third algal-MOOC, Introduction to Seaweed Biotechnology is currently being produced and scheduled for a 2021-2022 release.

Bioeconomy Careers

By offering a myriad of opportunities for individuals to engage with and advance their knowledge of algae, ATEC is strengthening workforce capabilities in the bioeconomy field.

For more information about career possibilities, take the time to explore BETO’s Bioenergy Career Map. This is an invaluable resource to learn more about jobs in algae as well as the entire field of bioenergy.

ATEC in 2020

The ATEC team works year round to continue to expand and improve ATEC programming while developing new opportunities for algal outreach and education. Our first bi-annual meeting of the year took place last month in San Diego and we are excited about what we have up our sleeves for 2020!

For more information on ATEC contact Dr. Ira “Ike” Levine, President of the Algae Foundation and Professor at the University of Southern Maine at ilevine@thealgaefoundation.org.

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