Microalgae are very attractive for the purpose of producing energy-rich molecules as they are photosynthetic organisms that can live in various aqueous environments, such as saline water. This gives them a low water footprint and moreover they do not have to compete with cultivated farmland. Although they are not superior to higher plants concerning photosynthetic efficiency, microalgae do have high growth rates and they provide much higher oil yields than higher plants such as palm, soybean or rapeseed, and do not produce lignocelluloses. Microalgae do not only use sunlight as energy source, but they are also very efficient in using fertilizers and waste streams as nutrient source. They could be used to clean these streams by removal of nitrogen and phosphate and use flue gas as source for carbon dioxide.
The potential of microalgae is clear but the technology for producing biofuels from microalgae is still immature. In order to make microalgae as a source for biofuels competitive with fossil fuels, it is important to reduce operational costs and to achieve a positive energy balance (fossil energy input is higher than energy output). The overall aim of FUEL4ME is to establish a sustainable chain for continuous biofuel production using microalgae as a production platform, thereby making 2nd generation biofuels competitive alternatives to fossil fuels. This will be achieved by:
1) Transforming the current 2-step process for algal biomass production into a continuous 1-step process with high lipid content (production process);
2) Development of a continuous downstream process using all components of the algal biomass (conversion process);
3) Integration of production and conversion process.
After setting up and proof of concept within controlled indoor conditions, the continuous process will be tested outdoors under real production conditions in four different regions (NL, IL, IT ES). Simultaneous with research on biomass production, a continuous downstream process will be developed. Finally the whole process (both biomass production and conversion into biofuel) will be integrated and subjected to an economic analysis and life cycle analysis.
Partners in this project are: DLO-Food&Biobased Research, DLO-Plant Research International, Wageningen University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Fotosintetica & Microbiologica S.r.l. BioTopic, Norsker Investigaciones, Proviron, Evodos B.V., PDX, Cellulac, FeyeCon Carbon Dioxide Technologies BV, Neste Oil, JOANNEUM RESEARCH Forschungsgesellschaft mbH, IDConsortium S.L.