When it comes to energy, human society has acted like hunter-gatherers, running around poking holes in the ground hoping that oil or gas will spring up.

But if we are going to evolve towards a society that has a sustainable energy supply, we must begin to cultivate renewable sources of energy like biofuel.

Since 2013, the Cardinale lab has been studying how ecological design might be used to improve the efficiency and sustainability of algal biofuel systems. We have shown that certain combinations of species can maximize the production of algal feedstocks, and that species combinations can be developed such that they are complimentary in their recycling of expensive fertilizers that are used to cultivate algae in outdoor ponds. We have further shown that nesting complimentary species within more diverse communities of algae can help alleviate problems associated with pathogens, parasites, and predators that often cause feedstocks to crash.

Example publications

Godwin, C. M., A. R. Lashaway, D. C. Hietala, P. E. Savage, and B. J. Cardinale. 2018. Biodiversity improves the ecological design of sustainable biofuel systems. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, 10:752-765 (doi:10.1111/gcbb.12524).

Narwani, A., A. Lashaway, D. Hietala, P. Savage, and B. J. Cardinale. 2016. The power of plankton: effects of algal biodiversity on biocrude production and stability. Environmental Science and Technology, 50:13142-13150 (doi:10.1021/acs.est.6b03256).


  • Phil Savage, Chemical Engineering, Penn State University
  • Andre Boehman, Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan
  • Nina Lin, Systems Biotechnology Group, University of Michigan
  • Todd Oakley, Laboratory of Systematics and Macroevolution, UC-Santa Barbara
  • Vincent Denef, Laboratory of Microbial Evolutionary Ecology, University of Michigan



  • Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management