Student - December 4, 2008

PILOT FACTORY TO PRODUCE ALGAE FOR ENERGY

Professor of Bioprocess Engineering René Wijffels and agrotechnologists from AFSG want to set up a pilot factory in Wageningen to breed algae for energy production. The pilot plant, which will cost about seven million euros, should make it clear whether producing algae is economically viable.

‘We want to compare three different production systems, as well as to develop production chains and get experience with these biological systems under changing circumstances’, says Wijffels, who presented his plans at an international conference on algae in Amsterdam yesterday.
Wijffels has drawn up a business plan that has been submitted to several ministries for assessment. At the conference he invited companies to cofinance the pilot factory. He is already working with fourteen companies, including energy providers, in a consortium at Wetsus research institute. Their aim is to develop suitable algae for the energy market. His draft plan for the factory was financed by Delta energy company. Algae can be used for various purposes, such as energy, fish feed, livestock feed, water purification and chemicals. ‘The most feasible idea seems to be a combination of products’, says Wijffels. In the pilot factory he focuses specifically on the lipids and alkanes, which can be turned into biodiesel and a petrol-like fuel respectively.
Although the alga is a highly productive raw material, with current technology it takes more energy to produce algae than they generate. ‘Currently it costs two euros to produce a kilo of algae. That has to be brought down to well below one euro.’
Wijffels hopes to achieve this reduction in costs in the factory through the scale of production, more efficient water use and a smarter CO2 supply system.

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