Algae Cluster: European Commission demonstration project

Seventh Framework ProgrammeThe 7th Framework Program (7FP) for research and technological development is the EU´s primary instrument for funding research and demonstration activities from 2007 through 2013 (Decision No. 1982/2006/EC). It brings together all research-related EU initiatives under one roof, providing the structure for reaching the EU goals of growth, competitiveness and employment. The total 7FP budget for the seven-year period amounts to €51 billion (US$69 billion). EU Member States and the European Parliament have earmarked a total of €2.35 billion (US$3 billion) over the duration of 7FP for funding energy-related projects.

This allocated budget is split on an equal basis between research projects to be managed by the Directorate General for Research and demonstration projects that are managed by the Directorate General for Energy (DG ENER). Since the inception of 7FP, DG ENER has issued calls for demonstration projects that put particular emphasis on biofuel production from lignocellulosic biomass and addresses practically all value chains from biomass resources to a final marketable biofuel.

The 7FP Call Topic of 2010 is aimed at large scale demonstration of biofuels production from algae with ambitious, but achievable targets:

  • Minimum plantation area of 10 hectares (24.7 acres), and
  • Minimum productivity of 90 dry solid tons per hectare per year.

Furthermore the consortia needed to be led by industrial organizations and the projects had to demonstrate the complete sustainable value chain from algae species selection to biofuel production and use in the market. The call was restricted to only projects in which the carbon dioxide (CO2) supply for the algae cultivation was provided by renewable applications, excluding CO2 generated from fossil fuel installations.

In total, 14 proposals were submitted by various industrial groups, from which the three projects described below were shortlisted for support. These contracts will be signed in early 2011. The total cost for the three projects is about €31 million (US$42 million) and the corresponding EC contribution amounts to about €20 million (US$27 million).

BIOfuel From Algae Technologies BIOFAT Project

BiofatBIOFAT is a microalgae-to-biofuel FP7 demonstration project that integrates the entire value chain of algae process from optimized growth, starch and oil accumulation, to downstream processing (biorefinery) including biofuel production . The BIOFAT approach integrates and scales up complementary technologies and skills from each partner into a global multidisciplinary project.

The value chain of biofuel production from microalgae will be tested on a large scale during the project with three main targets:

  • Energy efficiency;
  • Economic viability; and
  • Environmental sustainability.

Sustainability is the key factor for biofuel from algae production, considering both environmental (e.g. use of marine strains to limit freshwater use) and economic (e.g. low energy consumption) sustainability.

The project will be implemented in two phases:

  • Process optimization in two pilot scale facilities, each one-half hectare in size, located in Italy and Portugal; , and
  • Economical modelling and scale-up to a 10-hectare demo facility.

The technologies adopted in the pilot plant will be fully representative of the solutions that will characterize the DEMO facility.

The two pilots represent a strategic added value for the following industrial phase, and they will enable a full feasibility study of algae biofuels in EU. The 10 hectare plant aims to demonstrate how generating biofuels from algae technologies will work and show that the “microalgae production platform” can operate with positive economical balance through a biorefinery process where added value compounds are produced.

The BIOFAT consortium is characterized by a unique mix of skills that represent the actual state of the art in terms of knowledge and expertise in the field of microalgae production and applications, including biofuels. All partners have consolidated know-how in these fields, as they have worked on these topics for nearly two decades. The scientific and technological challenges will include:

  • Strain selection and cultivation, in accordance with environmental conditions and sustainability criteria;
  • Optimization of the culture conditions, adoption of strategies to limit contaminations and abiotic stresses , allowing high oil/starch accumulation:
  • Technology integration and optimization, combining photo-bioreactors (Green Wall Panels and tubular reactors) and raceway ponds, as well as automated harvesting;
  • Minimizing investment and operational costs for successfully up-scaling (from one-half hectare to 10 hectares) the technologies from algae cultivation to biomass processing and biofuel production, for competitive and sustainable algal biomass production.
  • Development of the algo-refinery concept valorising different co-products from the algae biomass fractions.

The BIOFAT Project Diagram
BIOFAT Diagram 

Source: The BIOFAT project, February 2011

BIOFAT consists of ten partners coming from 7 different countries:

  • A4F, S.A (Portugal), is the project coordinator. A4F designs, builds, operates and transfers large-scale microalgae production plants in co-location with large industries. Also supports Clients with product development and sales management.
  • Department of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences of the University of Florence (Italy). One of the top European University groups in biotechnology of microalgae and environmental microbiology. Scientific coordinator of the project.
  • Microalgal Biotechnology Laboratory of Ben Gurion University (Israel), one of the few research centers that interfaces basic algal physiology and biochemistry with industrial applications of micro-algal cultivation and photo-bioreactor design.
  • Fotosintetica & Microbiologica S.r.l. (Italy), a spin-off company of the University of Florence, has created an algae culture collection (about 950 strains) and develops low-cost photo-bioreactor designs (such as the Green Wall Panel), aiming at microalgae exploitation for food, chemicals and biofuel.
  • Evodos (The Netherlands), patented the Spiral Plate Technology (SPT), which enables dry solid separation under chemical- free processing and low energy consumption.
  • Algosource Technologies (France), a spin-off company of GEPEA and Alpha Biotech, provides conceptual engineering and process development for microalgae photo- synthesis and biorefining, as well as CO2 bio-sequestration.
  • A&A Fratelli Parodi S.p.a. (Italy), is a green chemistry oriented company that supplies products for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications and boasts experience in establishing and operating production plants for vegetable oils, third generation biofuels and green solvents
  • Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias,S.A. (Spain), is a leader in the development of new technologies to produce biofuels and chemical bio-products, as well as the sustainability of raw materials and development of innovative technological solutions through continuous investment in R+D.
  • IN S.r.l. (Italy), supports private and public organizations participating in EU, Member State and local innovation projects, and provides professional project management services.
  • Hart Energy (U.S), is one of the largest providers of information to the global energy industry. With a diverse array of informational products and services, it serves the global segments of the energy, oil and gas related industries.

All Gas Project

AllGasThe All-Gas project aims to demonstrate the sustainable production of low-cost biofuels from algae, based on the reuse of wastewater and other residues, taking into account that:

  • Providing microalgae with synthetic fertilizer as a nitrogen source could already account for up to one-third of the theoretical energy content of the produced biomass. Freshwater algae in high growth conditions can contain up to 10% nitrogen, leading to an external energy input in the form of nitrogen of 1.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) per kg of algal biomass.
  • Phosphorus is a limited resource with forecast reserves of around 100 years in mainly a handful of countries. If all diesel consumption worldwide, estimated at about 700 billion L (185 billion gal) per year, were replaced with biodiesel, the annual consumption of phosphorus would double, drastically shortening its remaining lifetime.
  • Wastewater treatment plants today do not take advantage of the energy content of organic matter in municipal effluents, estimated at 2.5 kWh per cubic meter (m3), or five times the energy used in its treatment. On the contrary, nitrogen is converted back to gas within the treatment process, in order to meet the nutrient discharge limits.

Therefore, the All-Gas project is based on the recycle of nutrients, energy harvesting and CO2 generation from wastewater and its residues. After anaerobic pre-treatment to maximize biogas production and gain CO2, the wastewater is then further purified by the growth of algal biomass. The harvested algae will be processed for the extraction of oils and other valuable byproducts, while the remaining algal biomass is subsequently transformed into biomethane, CO2 and minerals, together with other residual biomass from wastewater and/or agricultural residues.

A fundamental challenge to biofuel generation is the productivity of low cost bioreactors, in the form of raceway ponds. This project will introduce a newly patented device, the Light Enhancement Factor (LEF), to significantly increase the biomass yield of raceway ponds, while maintaining their positive energy balance.

If the target productivity of the algae cultures – 3,000 kg of dry solids per day (DS/d) – is reached, with algal oil content of 20%, enough biodiesel to run about 200 cars could be generated. The bio-methane production from the anaerobic digestion of raw wastewater and biomass residues should yield an equivalent amount of bio-methane for another 200 cars. In addition, wastewater flow of around 5,000 m3 per day would be treated to a level allowing for reuse, minimizing emissions, energy consumption and wastewater process residues.

The project will be implemented in two stages at a wastewater treatment plant in Southern Spain, starting with a prototype facility to gather the main design parameters for the full-scale plant during the first two years.

Once the viability and sustainability of the concept has been verified in full-scale ponds of 1,500 m2 each, 10 hectares will be developed and operated during the following three years.

The All-Gas Project Diagram

Source: The All-Gas project, February 2011

Aqualia, the third largest private water and wastewater company in the world, leads the consortium of the All-Gas project, consisting of seven partners and supported by a scientific advisory board to provide the knowledge and experience for this challenging endeavor. Other partners include:

  • The Feyecon Group, with subsidiaries CleanAlgae and AlgaeBiotech, specializing in high rate extraction and separation of biomass. The company also developed the LEF patent to increase raceway pond productivity.
  • MTD Turkbiodiesel, which has its own algae ponds and 10 years experience in biodiesel engineering.
  • BDI – BioEnergy International, a leading supplier of process engineering to transform residual oils into biofuels that has built more than 20 biodiesel plants across Europe.
  • Hygear, specializing in gas handling and purification processes and engineering.
  • The University of Southampton, which has led large EU projects on the digestion of residuals and biomass to energy pathways, as well as wastewater purification with algae ponds.
  • The Fraunhofer Umsicht Institute, which has done bioenergy research for more than seven years, developing catalysts and life cycle analysis of renewable resources.

InteSusAl Project

intesusalThe overall objective of InteSusAl (Demonstration of integrated and sustainable microalgae cultivation with biodiesel validation) is to demonstrate an integrated approach to generate biofuels from algae in a sustainable manner on an industrial scale.

More precisely, the project will optimise the production of algae by both heterotrophic and phototrophic routes and will demonstrate integration of these production technologies (Raceway, Photo-BioReactor and Fermentation) to achieve the algae cultivation targets of 90-120 dry tonnes per hectare by annum. The project will select algae species and cultivation technologies to attain algal oil with a suitable lipid profile for biodiesel production and will validate this selection through conversion of the extracted oil into biodiesel to meet standard specifications.

The sustainability of this demonstration, in terms of both economic and environmental (closed carbon loop) implications will be considered across the whole process; including optimum use of algal biomass resources to enable commercialisation.

The InteSusAl consortium is composed of six partners coming from four European countries, whose complementary expertise will enable to successfully deliver the expected results:

  • CPI (UK) provide enabling technology and IP related to low cost heterotrophic algal cultivation and experience in collaborative project management. CPI are the project coordinator
  • Necton (PT) have prior knowledge of microalgal phototrophic cultivation. The demonstration aspects of the project will be located at their premises, in the Algarve region of Portugal
  • NIOZ (NL) provide expert knowledge on the optimum algae strain selection
  • Narec (UK) bring their expertise in the validation of environmental and economic sustainability
  • DLO-FBR (NL) provide a wide ranging knowledge in the industrialisation of algae based processes and separation technology
  • EUREC (BE) will enable, through established mechanisms, widespread dissemination of the project results

The InteSusAl Project Diagram

Source; The InteSusAl project, February 2011