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ATP3 to share data on free & open web platform: Q & A with NREL’s Edward Wolfrum

As a component of the ATP3 mission to propel the algae industry forward, the national testbed network is now releasing live data for researchers and algae companies to study and use.The data generated at the ATP3 testbed sites around the nation will help agencies not only learn about the projects ATP3 is involved in, but will help viewers develop and adopt best practices to integrate into their own experiments.

This data will be available on the Open Energy Information Initiative (OpenEI.org) a free knowledge sharing platform managed for the U.S. Department of Energy by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a member of the ATP3 network. To describe the OpenEI platform, Edward Wolfrum, Senior Researcher and Manager at NREL, answers a few questions about the site and the importance of sharing data.

Who can access the openei.com site?

The site, en.openei.org/wiki/Main_Page, will be open to anybody with a web browser. We will release the data from each unified field study (UFS) in two stages. Four months after the conclusion of each UFS we will provide summary data on pond performance and algal compositional analysis. Twelve months after the conclusion of UFS we will provide production and analytical data (in spreadsheet format). This will allow for ample time to really understand the data from each UFS, compare it across regions and prepare manuscripts based on these data to share with the scientific community.

How easy is it going to be to navigate, access and understand the data?

The site is very easy to navigate. We will have links from the ATP3 website directly to the data with summaries to help people interpret the data.

Why display this data to the public? How is it useful?

We think it is important to display the data to the public for a few reasons.

First, while many manuscripts and articles talk about “growth rates” and “productivities” it is quite rare to see the primary data that were used to generate these numbers. A “growth rate” is normally calculated by measuring the change in the amount of algae over a given period of time. It turns out there are several ways to calculate these growth rates, and it is not always clear how a particular author did the calculations.

Second, we hope to demonstrate best practices for performing such growth experiments and then reporting the results of such experiments. By doing so, we can create an informal standard on how to do (and report) similar experiments, and encourage other groups to be equally transparent.

How is this new or revolutionary compared to how the algae industry keeps or shares information now?

My understanding is that there is virtually no primary data for algal cultivation trials generally available. Private companies understandably hold their experiment data very closely. By using public funds to generate publicly available data, we hope to catalyze further research in this area.

Can you give an example of how this data could potentially help someone in the algae industry right now?

Suppose an algae industry researcher is trying to validate a proprietary mathematical model that predicts algal productivity as a function of location and harvesting practices. These two issues were examined in the Spring 2014 UFS study.  By looking at the primary data from this study (rather than a summary given in a journal article) they can use algal cultivation data from different locations and several different harvesting conditions to understand if real-world data agree with their mathematical model. Because the data are openly available, they do not need to perform (or pay somebody to perform) such experiments.

What is the next step after getting this data released to the public?

We do not know how influential these data will be, but we suspect large comprehensive data sets may provide unexpected insights. We hope that our published manuscripts based on these data might stimulate other researchers to examine these data and pursue other lines of inquiry based on them.

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Edward Wolfrum, Senior Researcher and Manager at NREL, discusses the benefits of the free data shared by ATP3.