Innovative integrated microalgae cultivation to be demonstrated at one-hectare unit in southern Portugal
by Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research and is reposted here with the kind permission of the authours
A consortium of biotechnology experts, including experts of Wageningen UR, has started to build a one-hectare pilot unit for the production of microalgae in Portugal.
This unit will demonstrate an innovative integrated approach to produce microalgae biomass with biodiesel validation in a sustainable manner.
The demonstration pilot unit is one of the milestones expected from the Integrated Sustainable Algae (InteSusAl) project in which Wageningen UR is involved.
The project aims at optimising the production of algae by both heterotrophic and phototrophic routes. Also, it will demonstrate integration of these production technologies to achieve the microalgae cultivation targets of 90-120 dry tonnes per hectare per year.
Secure energy supply
InteSusAl’s demonstration unit comes in a time of extreme importance to ensure Europe’s energy supply security.
We are glad that the European Commission is making it possible to demonstrate this new approach to produce microalgae biomass.
We hope that our results will attract attention from investors interested in financing a 10-hectare site to produce microalgae in a sustainable manner on an industrial scale. — Dr Neil Hindle, coordinator of the InteSusAl project
The project integrates heterotrophic and phototrophic production technologies, using bio-diesel glycerol as carbon source to the heterotrophic unit and validating the biomass output for bio-diesel conversion.
The demonstration unit will be located in the municipality of Olhão, in the Algarve region of Southern Portugal. The pilot site will be composed of a set of fermentation units, tubular photobioreactors and raceways.
The sustainability of this demonstration, in terms of both economic and environmental (closed carbon loop) implications will be considered across the whole process, assessed via a robust life cycle analysis.
The InteSusAl Consortium is composed of 6 partners from 4 European countries. The demonstration trials are expected to begin in October 2014.
InteSusAl has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstrations.
Biodiesel Forges A Path To Prosperity | 11/02/14 by Tyson Keever, general manager, SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel
In a global economy the elements for creating products can be complex and far-reaching: Raw materials, labour and manufacturing can all be outsourced or off-shored, and even the markets for goods can be distant.
In contrast, SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel is a closed-loop business, meaning we draw our raw material — used cooking oil — from the same region where we sell our products, primarily biodiesel that fuels delivery vehicles and school buses as well as individual motor cars.
For those of us in the alternative fuel industry, what motivated us when we started is what motivates us today. My partners and I wanted to provide Oregonians with an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels while also building a business that would grow over time and provide jobs in the region.
Recently we closed another loop, as we signed a contract to recycle cooking oil from the concession stands operated by the University of Oregon Athletics department.
When I was exploring the potential opportunities in the biodiesel industry, just over 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to do so through the University of Oregon entrepreneurial incubator project.
The Riverfront Innovation Center provided me with the facility, resources and time needed to research how to take the concept of locally produced biodiesel to the reality of SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel as a viable, profitable business.
As a business major vetting a business model, I liked the way the numbers added up. On the supply side, restaurant owners were paying to have cooking oil disposed of, as trash. On the demand side, motorists and delivery fleets were paying the owners of petroleum wells in distant countries to send them fuel from thousands of miles away.
As an Oregonian, I liked the way the numbers played out in the world around me.
Biodiesel made from used cooking oil is significantly cleaner than petroleum diesel, emitting up to 78 percent less carbon dioxide and other harmful gases.
Like a growing number of people, I was interested in keeping pollution out of the air, waste out of the landfills, and energy dollars closer to home.
As in high-tech and craft brewing, two other industries dear to Oregonian’s hearts, early adopters came out of the woodwork, and their support and enthusiasm helped us refine our product. By 2004 we were able to launch SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel LLC, a joint venture with of Maui, Hawaii.
We established the first commercial biodiesel production facility in Oregon, only the second commercial biodiesel production facility in the Pacific Northwest. We were squatting in a gas station on Highway 30 in Portland, but we could see a promising future ahead and were able to hire our first employee.
Where we are today
We have hubs in Seattle, Portland, Salem, and Spokane, and serve the surrounding areas to cover the entire region. Our nearly 100 employees in these markets pick up used cooking oil from local suppliers or refine the oil at our plant in Salem or distribute it to our customers throughout Washington, Idaho, Oregon and soon northern California. These jobs would not exist if the valuable resource of used cooking oil were getting buried away in the ground.
Our biodiesel is made from used cooking oil in the Pacific Northwest. We have more than 7,000 suppliers throughout the region including businesses, schools, restaurants and hospitals. There is no cost for restaurants to recycle their oil with us. In fact, some on our customers may be eligible for rebates for every gallon of oil we collect.
SeQuential Pacific is fortunate to work with other Oregon businesses that share our passion for sustainability, including Burgerville, New Seasons Market, Nike, Safeway, Roth’s Fresh Market and McMenamins. Some are suppliers, some are customers, and some are both.
This sequence — food first, then fuel — is essential to our business model. We do not want to be part of a different problem, mowing down forests for agriculture or laying claim to crops that could feed people.
Used cooking oil is a raw material (in energy production, we call it feedstock), but it’s not so-called virgin material.
Just as Schnitzer Steel can make new rebar out of old girders and Nike can make a sharp-looking football shirt out of spent plastic bottles, our biodiesel is primarily a second-use product: It gives used cooking oil new life and provides added value as a fuel and even down to further byproducts.
SeQuential Pacific sells glycerin and the industrial oil referred to as boiler fuel oil to local distributors. We also make a fertilizer from our purification cake and a high-nutrient water digester feed.
What’s in store for the future
For us as a company and the industry as a whole, biodiesel has the potential to change the way the United States views energy, its relationship to fossil fuels and the countries the U.S. chooses to do business with.
Perhaps more importantly, it can transform how consumers view their role in energy consumption and production. A school district that wants to improve the air quality for students, for example, doesn’t have to buy new buses to run a new kind of fuel — it can run biodiesel in the diesel engines it already owns.
Biofuel is not the only answer to local prosperity, sustainability and self-reliance, but, like second-use steel and second-use plastic, a step in the right direction. The smartest technologies deliver multiple benefits to multiple interests.
SeQuential Pacific strives to stay focused on the triple bottom line of people, profits and planet: better environmental and therefore better human health; an improved economy, with dollars circulating locally instead of far away.
The alternative fuels industry has provided more opportunities and a faster evolution than any of us could have dreamed of a decade ago. As we look ahead to the next 10-20 years, we are eager to expand our business model to other communities around the west, and we look forward to other counterparts closing the loop in other Oregon industries.
And if you enjoy a burger and fries in Autzen Stadium this fall, you’ll be part of that loop too.
On the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week* European energy journalist Karel Beckman, university biologist Joanne Manaster, and I got to have a conversation with a member of Boeing leadership who has been working on what seems to be a genuine breakthrough in the biofuel arena, and in the energy arena in general. There are a few very exciting things about the development, and some super interesting side notes, so take your time and be sure to read this piece carefully!
I’ve summarized all the key points in text below, but also included at the bottom of this article is an audio recording of the entire conversation we had with Darrin Morgan, director of sustainable aviation fuels at Boeing. Thanks to Karel for kindly sharing that, and thanks to Darrin for allowing us to record him.
First of all, let me say that I have hardly covered biofuels in the past couple of years because I more or less gave up on them as a genuinely sustainable and cost-competitive near-term solution to our climate, pollution, and resource scarcity crises. Algae biofuels look like they won’t be cost competitive until the mid to late 2020s at the earliest, if ever. Meanwhile, cellulosic biofuels seem to have many of the same critical drawbacks as first-generation biofuels.
Two of the biggest drawbacks of conventional (1st-generation) and cellulosic biofuels are that they require a tremendous amount of freshwater and arable land for their production. These resources are basic necessities of human life. Unfortunately, they are also in short supply for over a billion people.
The new biofuel Boeing and partners have developed skirts those issues completely. But I’ll get back to that after another interesting backstory, one I was not aware of.
Oil Problems… Including Problems For Airliners
While the biofuel backstory is pretty well-known, some important parts of the oil backstory are new to me, and surely many or all of you. We all know that burning oil for energy is a leading cause of globe warming, that oil security issues and wars are a major harm to society, and that oil resource scarcity and price spikes are also a continuous threat to society. All of these issues alone would have companies like Boeing looking for a sustainable, cost-competitive fuel alternative. But something else also has Boeing looking for an alternative to petroleum — the quality of today’s oil supply.
Unconventional oil production from tar sands and shale oil have boosted US and global oil production just as conventional oil fields have have been running dry. However, a variety of chemicals are used in these more complicated and dirtier production processes. Boeing and other air transport companies have found that the chemicals in these unconventional oils cause problems for their engines. They reduce efficiency and lead to other complications. You might think that Boeing and its colleagues in the airline industry could convince oil companies to work on solutions to these problems, but according to Darrin (who I’ll remind you is the director of sustainable aviation fuels at Boeing), in the grand scheme of things, airline companies aren’t a big enough portion of oil companies’ business in order to get that attention.
So, along with the typical concerns that come from burning oil, Boeing has been looking for a sustainable solution that will also perform better. Interestingly, counter to the early hype, Darrin noted that biofuels actually burn very cleanly and would be preferred over petroleum from a performance perspective.
Naturally, oil companies have not been big supporters of a switch to biofuels. Boeing and others in the air transport industry, however, eventually decided that they wanted to research ways that they could genuinely move beyond oil. As a result, in 2008, they created the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group. That seems to have been the seed of the biofuel breakthrough discussed below.
Boeing’s Biofuel Breakthrough
In recent years, Boeing has “happened across” a new type of biofuel, a biofuel with some amazing natural benefits. First of all, the biofuel comes from a type of plant — halophytes — that can grow in the desert, not taking up valuable arable land. Furthermore, these halophytes can be irrigated with saltwater, again solving one of the main downsides of conventional biofuels — their tremendous freshwater needs. For these reasons and others, it seems that halophyte biofuels can be produced at a low, competitive cost.
Notably, this big discovery wasn’t made purely by accident. Several years ago, when Boeing decided that it wanted to find a better fuel source than oil or conventional biofuels, it aimed to find a fuel that was genuinely sustainable. It didn’t want to run into the problems with powerful stakeholders or the environment that corn ethanol ran into. Sustainability was the focus all the way down to design. When Boeing ran across the possibility of creating biofuel from these unique halophytes, back in 2009, it found that there were actually no patents related to such a process (globally). Can you imagine the feeling? Boeing then started the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium in Abu Dhabi, partnering with Masdar Institute, Etihad Airways, and Honeywell’s UOP to work on researching the biofuel’s potential.
News has gotten even better since then, in a couple of ways:
1) Aquaculture has been growing worldwide as a solution to rapidly declining fish stocks in open waters. However, aquaculture comes with at least one big problem — it produces a tremendous waste stream. Interestingly, halophytes, can actually use aquaculture waste as a feedstock.
2) A key process in creating biofuel from cellulosic plants is separating the lignin from the sugars (the sugars are what get converted into fuel). About six months ago, Boeing and crew (corny pun intended) discovered that this process was actually much easier with halophytes than it was with other cellulosic plants used for biofuel.
Science is all fun and games, of course, but the real question is: what’s the cost? Can this halophyte biofuel play in the big leagues? The expectation is that it really can, and within just 4-5 years.
A pilot facility (a couple hectares in size) is being built in Abu Dhabi for testing that will start in 2015. That testing is supposed to go on for about 2 years, but if all goes well, a larger facility (500 hectares in size) could go up before that first test period is finished — in 1–3 years. Optimistically, commercial production (thousands and thousands of hectares) would start soon after — perhaps 4–5 years from now, according to Darrin.
Just to clarify, I asked if this biofuel would be cost-competitive at that time. Indeed, that is the expectation.
Biggest Biofuel Breakthrough To Date?
Darrin’s concluding remark in our short time together seems on the money to me: “This, to me, is the biggest breakthrough that there is out there.” (In biofuels, that is.)
By the way, while the biofuel is being developed by members of the airline industry, the vision is that it will also be useful for ground transport.
Stay tuned — I’m soon going to dig into this story a bit more in a video interview with Darrin. If you have any questions you want me to ask at that time, drop them in the comments below!
Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.