Pioneering European project produces first algae crops for bioenergy in Spain

The EU-backed All-gas project, the world’s largest to convert algae into clean energy using wastewater, has successfully grown its first crop of algae biomass at its site in Chiclana (Southern Spain). This is a major breakthrough for the pioneering investigation which aims to obtain low-cost biofuel from algae grown in wastewater.

FCC reported Thursday that the algae crop has produced outstanding results – the biomass obtained shows a particularly high energy potential relative to its digestibility level, with a methane production capacity of around 200-300 litres of gas per kilogram of biomass processed by anaerobic digestion. The microalgae also allow the purification of wastewater to a high standard.

Launched in May 2011, the five-year project has already completed its pilot phase (the first two years) in a 200 square meter facility. The plans for the construction of the biomass plant are on schedule, and a one-hectare prototype is under construction. The project’s final phase will span 10 hectares – the equivalent of ten football fields.

In terms of surface area, this will be the first time a project of this scale (10 hectares of cultivation) will be implemented in the world for the cultivation of algae into bioenergy using wastewater treatment. In New Mexico, there is a 6-hectare biofuel production site – but this uses artificial fertilizer not waste nutrients. Various other installations around 10 hectares do exist but use food-based crops.

It is expected that by 2016, the biofuel produced by the All-gas project will be enough to power 200 vehicles. When the project reaches its demonstration phase, the biogas produced will be used to power public buses and garbage trucks in the region of Cadiz.

According to Frank Rogalla, Project Coordinator and FCC Aqualia’s Director of Innovation and Technology, “This original new approach to bioenergy means that Spain’s 40 million population could power 200,000 vehicles every year with a single toilet flush. The All-gas project is going to change the face of wastewater treatment by generating a valuable energy resource from what was previously considered undesirable waste.”

In recent years, the European Union has made a decisive commitment to the pursuit of new sources of clean energy. The current aim is that 20% of the energy produced in Europe will come from renewable sources by 2020. In this context, the €12 million All-gas project, with EU funding of €7.1 million, can be considered a global benchmark.

The raw material used to obtain the biofuel – wastewater – is a waste product, whose treatment actively consumes energy and resources. The All-gas project proposes using this wastewater, as well as CO2, generated in biomass boilers from residuals such as garden waste or olive pits to feed the algae, which in turn are converted into biogas. A part of the biogas is CO2, which gets separated from the biomethane and recycled.

As Nicolas Aragon, Chiclana’s environmental councilor, explains: “This is not only an R&D project, but also a way of reducing costs and investing in the protection of our natural environment. Chiclana is a worldwide tourist destination and from now on, we will show that along with attracting visitors with our sunshine and beaches, we can also grow sustainable biofuel with our natural resources.”

Furthermore, this technology avoids the controversy that surrounds other biofuel projects, which are based on large-scale food crops. Food-based biofuels have been criticized for raising food prices as well as having an adverse environmental effect. The All-gas system is also self-sufficient as it runs on the energy it produces and it is part of an integral water management system.

The All-Gas consortium is led by FCC Aqualia, and comprises five other organisations, from Germany (Fraunhofer – Gesellschaft), Austria (BDI), the Netherlands (Feyecon y Hygear) and the UK (University of Southampton).

About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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