SUCCESS STORIES

Microalgae Biorefinery 2.0

Whole algae biomass and its associated compounds are being developed as sustainable raw materials and industrial feedstock for a host of sectors, including animal feed, bioplastics and fuels.

Microalgae Biorefinery 2.0 (MAB 2.0) is piloting a system with Budapest Sewage Works that integrates algae production into waste water treatment plants. It has several benefits, such as capturing the CO2 produced in biogas plants on site, and helping remove nutrients to below the legal threshold for natural discharge. The project, currently at Demonstrator stage of Climate-KIC’s innovation process, is also looking to market the algae biomass in a variety of sectors, including adhesives, bioplastics and cosmetics, looking for environmentally sounder alternatives.

Key points

  • •Algae can be grown using the side streams of waste water treatment, namely CO2 captured from any onsite source and the effluent produced through dewatering sewage sludge
  • •In doing so, it can optimise energy use and reduce emissions at waste water treatment plants, improving environmental performance
  • •The biomass produced can be used as an environmentally sounder alternative raw material in a range of manufacturing applications
  • •Microalgae Biorefinery 2.0 (MAB 2.0) is piloting such a system, integrating algae biomass production into the operations of the North Budapest waste water treatment plant operated by Budapest Sewage Works
  • •MAB 2.0 will develop its service offer for the waste water treatment sector

Project Background and Drivers

To ensure a continued supply of quality water for human consumption, and for agricultural and industrial use, society has to treat the growing amount of waste water it produces. Treatment plants use energy to remove nutrients from the wastewater and usually have biogas plants onsite that emit CO2. Algae, like all plants, absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen while producing biomass that can be used in different applications.

If algae production systems are integrated into waste water plants, they can significantly reduce the number of times the effluent is reintroduced to the system for purification, saving energy and money for water treatment plants and water managers.

The algae biomass produced as a result has environmental benefits, too. It can be processed into useful products such as biofuel, plastics or adhesives, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and energy-intensive production processes.

Project Detail

Microalgae Biorefinery (MAB) 2.0 is a Climate-KIC Demonstrator project based in Hungary. It is developing a system that grows algae – microbic plants – using the side streams of waste water treatment plants. It can be integrated into the waste water treatment process, capturing CO2 and using the nutrients found in the effluent produced by dewatering sewage sludge to produce added-value algae biomass. This is then sold on to processors.

“There are many technologies on the market that produce algae, but they usually do so on sterile media, which provides what the algae needs in a fully controlled manner,” says Miklós Gyalai-Korpos, MAB 2.0’s innovation manager. “But in our case, the algae’s feedstock is a byproduct of waste water treatment.”

That byproduct is the effluent produced during the dewatering of sewage sludge. Although it is not raw waste water its nutrient content is still above the threshold for discharging directly back into the water cycle. Instead, waste water treatment plants inject effluent back into the system, retreating it more than once until it is suitable for discharge. All along the way, this uses large quantities of energy, which produces greenhouse gas emissions.

“If algae can consume those nutrients, then you reduce your load and therefore the energy use of the plant,” says Gyalai-Korpos. “And you can put the effluent back into nature after algae treatment.”

Many plants also have a biogas facility or other CO2 source nearby such as natural gas boilers, he adds, and the algae can use CO2 captured from those processes.

There are multiple environmental benefits of producing algae in waste water, but the practicalities pose some issues. Effluent contains a lot of components, some of which can be toxic or inhibitory to algae. It’s dark in colour, too, which makes it harder for sunlight, the other main ingredient of photosynthesis, to penetrate usefully.

As well as perfecting a method of producing algae biomass from waste water, the MAB 2.0 team is also developing an interface to connect the treatment facility with the algae production area that will use filtration to make the effluent algae-friendly.

Product Development

The biomass end-product is environmentally friendly, too. One of the project’s partners, Wageningen Food and Biobased Research, is examining the composition of the algae produced to identify potential uses. Algae is often discussed as a potential source of biofuel, but that is a low-margin sector, according to Gyalai-Korpos. The plan now is to look at higher value-added uses for their product. With that in mind, MAB 2.0 has already signed memoranda of understanding with three companies interested in piloting its biomass product in a range of applications.

The first is a bioplastics manufacturer interested in trying out algae as a raw material. The other commercial opportunities are related to the wood industry. “Composite wood products [such as MDF or chipboard] are made from particles of wood and glue stuck together,” says Gyalai-Korpos. “The adhesive is made from fossil fuels and contains formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic.” Algae, he adds, could be the perfect alternative.

Climate-KIC Support

Three years ago the project started its Climate-KIC affiliation as a Pathfinder project, testing the feasibility of its innovation assumptions. Today, as a Demonstrator, it draws on the business and technological expertise of partners across Europe including PANNON Pro Innovations, Utrecht University, Wageningen University, Wageningen Food and Biobased Research, Budapest Sewage Works Pte Ltd, INRA, the University of Valencia and the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

“Seven out of our eight current partners were Climate-KIC partners – and our industrial partner, the Budapest Sewage Works has engaged with Climate-KIC due to this project,” says Gyalai-Korpos. “These connections are a huge advantage.”

The business development and technological support the partners have provided has been essential, he adds.

The algae biomass produced has environmental benefits, too. It can be processed into biofuel, plastics or adhesives, for example, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and energy-intensive production processes.

Miklós Gyalai-Korpos, MAB 2.0’s innovation manager

 

For more information visit algaerefinery.eu

 
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