European consortium to develop novel solar lighting for improved algae growth in
open ponds and bioreactors 5
Peak oil, population growth and global warming all are drivers of the need to develop second
generation biofuels, which do not compete with agricultural food production. Solalgen, (www.solalgen.eu), an R&D project funded by European Union’s Research for SME’s programme, kicked off at a meeting in Swindon at the facilities of Microsharp, a UK-based designer and manufacturer of innovative optics products. The project is developing key technologies to improve the productivity and cost effectiveness of growing algae, by developing low cost technologies for improved solar illumination of the algae medium, as well as cultivation facilities which offer the advantages of closed ‘photobioreactors’ but with the costs of growing algae in open ponds.
Improvements in the productivity and cost structure of algae growth is critical if algae-derived biofuels are to become a source of transportation fuels for the automotive and aviation markets. Algae fuels, which consume as much carbon dioxide during their growth as is released when they are used, potentially offer a route to biofuels that do not compete with food and which are able to use low quality water resources including sea water.
In addition algae growth theoretically offers significantly greater production of fuel per acre than all other sources of biofuels. However, in practice, algae production is limited by several key factors. One of these is the need to better illuminate the algae growth medium as the single celled organisms are actually damaged by high light intensities – such as is achieved by normal direct sunlight in sunny countries. A pool of growing algae therefore consists of a top layer of algae which receive excessive light whilst lower in the pool there is no light at all, since it has been rapidly absorbed by the dense algae solution above. Needed is an ultra-low cost method of taking the sunlight and spreading it more uniformly throughout the 3D volume of the algae medium.
Algae cultivation adopts two main methods – open ponds in the form of ‘raceways’ with paddles to mix and circulate the algae solution, or closed clear containers such as bags or tubes, through which an algae solution is pumped. The ponds are cheaper but suffer from poorly controlled growth conditions and contamination
from wild organisms. Closed photobioreactors are better controlled (and therefore offer greater productivity) but can be very expensive. Needed is a new approach which offers a very low cost means of controlled, enclosed, algae
The project will last two years and is a collaboration between 8 European partners:
Microsharp Corporation Ltd, UK (www.microsharp.com)
Biodiesel Castilla la Mancha, S.L, Spain (www. biodieselclm.com)
Emergo d.o.o, Croatia (www. emergo.hr)
Algaelink NV, Netherlands, (www.algaelink.com)
iXscient Limited, UK (www.ixscient.com)
Novamina Centar inovativnih tehnologija d.o.o, Croatia (www.novamina.hr)
Tecnologias Avanzadas Inspiralia SL, Spain (www.itav.es)
Petrol Slovenska Energetska Druzba dd Ljubljana, Slovenia (www.petrol.si)
Dr. Nicholas Walker, CEO of Microsharp stated “We are very excited to be involved in this timely project to support the development of sustainable biofuels. Novel, low cost, illumination technologies based on optical films are proving critical for exiting sectors such as displays, low energy lighting and solar energy and we are seeking to be a global innovator in this field”.
Peter van den Dorpel, MSc., CEO of Algaelink N.V. added: “AlgaeLink is fully committed to make algae solutions available to a wide range of industries. As a global leader in algae growing technology we are very keen to team-up with our European project partners in order to get to higher yields and lower costs in this important industry”.