Journal of Applied Phycology

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 1145–1157 | Cite as

Effects of cell motility and morphology on the rheology of algae suspensions

  • N. Cagney
  • T. Zhang
  • R. Bransgrove
  • M. J. Allen
  • S. BalabaniEmail author


Algae have been proposed as a source of biofuels and high value chemical products, but if this potential is to be fully realised, it is crucial to understand the factors affecting the suspension rheology. Suspensions of three algae species, Tetraselmis chuii, Chlorella sp. and Phaeodactylum tricornutum, were sheared in a rotational rheometer in order to characterise their rheology and examine the effects of cell concentration, motility and morphology. The volume fraction ranged from 0.05 to 0.2, and the shear rate from 20 to 200 s−1. The rheology measurements are fitted to the Herschel-Bulkley model, and the intrinsic viscosity is estimated using both Einstein’s equation and the Krieger-Dougherty model, which are found to perform well for low concentrations. The intrinsic viscosity of T. chuii suspensions is shown not to be constant, but decreases with strain rate, indicating that the suspension viscosity is less sensitive to the cell concentration at high strain rates. The rate of decline is constant for strain rates below approximately 100 s−1, after which it continues to decline linearly, but at a slower rate. It is speculated that this transition at 100 s−1 is related to the appearance of flocculation at low strain rates. The effect of the cell motility on the rheology of T. chuii suspensions is investigated by comparing the rheology of motile and passive cells. The shear-thinning behaviour is absent and the effective viscosity is considerably lower for the passive cell suspensions, indicating that the motility of the T. chuii cells causes them to align to resist the flow. In contrast, the Chlorella sp. suspensions exhibit shear-thickening behaviour, which has not previously been reported. Finally, the influence of the effective aspect ratio on the cell suspensions is examined by comparing the intrinsic viscosity of all three species. The algal species with the largest aspect ratio, P. tricornutum, has the largest intrinsic viscosity, while the smallest aspect ratio strain, Chlorella sp., has the smallest viscosity. However, it is shown that the increase in viscosity of motile compared to non-motile T. chuii suspensions cannot be attributed to a change in the effective aspect ratio of individual cells due to the motion of the flagella alone.


Algae suspension Effective viscosity Non-Newtonian Cell motility Cell morphology 



This work was partially supported by a grant awarded from the Innovate UK (formerly known as Technology Strategy Board) (TSB 4783-44269). The authors would like to thank Dr. Efstathios Kaliviotis for helpful discussions regarding the rheometer measurements.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Cagney
    • 1
  • T. Zhang
    • 2
  • R. Bransgrove
    • 3
  • M. J. Allen
    • 3
  • S. Balabani
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Plymouth Marine LaboratoryPlymouthUK

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