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ASU business professor wins top science book award

June 08, 2009

The legendary Jacques Cousteau taught him about oceanography at the U.S. Naval Academy more than 40 years ago. Now, Professor Mark Edwards of the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness at Arizona State University would surely be making his late mentor proud with a new “top science book of the year” award for his work about how algae can revolutionize food and fuel.

“Algae is very nutritious, delicious, sustainable and affordable,” says Professor Edwards, whose book Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports and Engineer Sustainable Food and Fuels recently received an Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards Gold Medal. “You can process algae into flour so it tastes great, and then use it for just about anything you would make out of soybeans, corn, wheat or any other grain. You can also grow algae on very large water-based farms about 30 times faster than you can grow land-based crops, and you can harvest about half of the new growth daily. The result is double the protein value of land crops that would take an entire season to produce.”

Instead of using freshwater, fossil fuels and pesticides, Edwards explains algae can be grown using only renewable sunshine, carbon dioxide, and wastewater or reclaimed water. This saves money, natural resources and farmland, making algae an appealing sustainable source for food. However, Edwards adds the plants also have many other impressive uses.

Green Algae Strategy summarizes algae research being done around the world, including some of the best work on how to create fuel from algae, which is being conducted here in Arizona State University labs,” says Edwards. “Oil from algae can be used to fuel diesel engines, cars or jet planes. Also, when oil is pressed out of algae, the remaining material can be used for animal feed and food products.”

In addition, Edwards says algae plants have tremendous potential as medicine, since they contain proteins that can stop the spread of SARS and HIV. Algae have been used to make fish oil health supplements rich in Omega-3 fatty acids because the harvesting is cheaper and faster than from fish. Edwards says algae may also be used to remove pollutants from water and create organic fertilizers.

Still, the sustainable food theme is Edwards’ main focus as he concentrates on the problem of world hunger. He was close to June and the late Marvin Morrison, owners of a successful Arizona dairy and cattle operation, and for whom the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness is named. Marvin took 11 courses from Edwards, but the professor maintains he learned more than he taught.

“The Morrison family is dedicated to service and global stewardship, and Marvin fueled that passion in me,” says Edwards. “He was on more than 20 boards and inspired students and everyone around him to serve our communities. He encouraged me to examine new sources of food and energy.”

Edwards hopes the IPPY Award for top science book of the year will bring new attention to the impressive ways algae can benefit humanity. The book was chosen from more than 4,300 reviewed by the judges this year. Edwards, who has done consulting work for Disney, Hewlett-Packard, American Airlines, Intel and Kodak, among others, says recognition of his book will take his algae message to a much larger audience than he can reach with his current two or three lectures each week.

“The reason you write a book is to convey a value proposition,” says Edwards. “I’ve been passionate about algae as a food and energy source for more than 40 years, and now lots of other people will see that promise and engage in algae research, too. We need our young people to learn science so they can become stewards for our world.”

More information about the book and algae research can be found at