Researchers design photobioreactor to produce biofuel from algae

May 27, 2013

Researchers at the University of Alicante have patented a new device that allows more efficiently to cultivate microalgae and can be used as raw material for biofuel or for other valuable substances in the agri-food or pharmaceutical industry.

The Research Group in Polymer Processing and at the University of Alicante is the team that has designed and developed this device, consisting of a photobioreactor, easily scalable to larger production, which has attracted the interest of both Spanish and foreign firms in the sector of biotechnology.

The director of the research group, Antonio Marcilla Gomis, explained that the novelty of this photobioreactor compared to those existing is that it allows mass production, less cleaning and maintenance operations, better use of CO2 and better light transfer to cultivation.

During the last decade, growing concerns about oil depletion and global warming have prompted wide research into from biomass.

This is because biofuels can provide environmental improvements in reducing , which would not be achieved with the use of oil.

Algae can provide many advantages, because they breed quickly, do not require and not even need clean or fresh water to grow, but more importantly they produce an oil that can be converted into biodiesel fuel type, as Marcilla Gomis states.

The design of this aims to overcome any difficulties or problems that have been presented over the years with the use of other similar .

"The subject on the cultivation of is having a major boom in terms of research in the last fifteen years as an alternative energy to oil", he said.

However, as Marcilla Gomis clarified, the cost of the production of microalgae for energy "is still far from what would be a profitable process comparable to oil".

"This does not mean that in a few years it may be so", this researcher expressed, who underlined that U.S. and Asia multinational firms are interested in a position in this field.

For example, as he reveals, in the U.S. there is an ongoing project, strategically aimed at precisely the achievement of non-oil fuel as an alternative energy source to supply the military and civil transport.

Apart from biomass to produce biofuels, microalgae can be used to achieve other substances of great industrial value in various sectors, such as food, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics.

Depending on the crop species, they can get antibiotics, polyunsaturated fatty acids, enzymes, proteins, vitamins, triglycerides or antioxidants.

At present, there is no similar photobioreactor in the market, and therefore, it is thought of as "a powerful potential technology for international marketing".

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Provided by University of Alicante

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Cliff Claven
2 / 5 (4) May 27, 2013
This piece is an advertisement, not a scientific article or announcement. Snake oil claims such as algae do "not even need clean or fresh water to grow" are patently false. All the various algae schemes for fuels and industrial chemicals depend upon growing custom strains of microorganisms as laboratory quality monocultures. The process is ruined if invasive species contaminate the cultures. For this reason, the water not only needs to be filtered and desalinated, it needs to be sterilized with UV radiation and/or ozone. If a saline species is to be used, the salt can be added back in after sterilization at the appropriate concentration. This is of course, very expensive. The need to protect the culture from invasive species drives the use of PBRs in the first place, but the prohibitive costs of commissioning and maintaining thousands of square miles of PBRs drives the use of open ponds. This is just one of many unsolved dilemmas generally not disclosed by algae entrepreneurs.

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