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Algae crop success creates clean energy

The EU-backed All-Gas project, which aims to obtain low-cost biofuel from algae grown in wastewater, has successfully grown its first crop of algae biomass at its site in Chiclana, southern Spain.

The microalgae also allow the purification of wastewater to a high standardThe microalgae also allow the purification of wastewater to a high standard

The biomass obtained from the algae crop shows a high energy potential relative to its digestibility level, with a methane production capacity of around 200-300l of gas per kilogram of biomass processed by anaerobic digestion. The microalgae also allow the purification of wastewater to a high standard.

The five-year project, which was launched in May 2011, has completed its pilot phase (the first two years) in a 200m2 facility. Plans for a biomass plant are on schedule, and a one-hectare prototype is under construction. The project’s final phase will span ten hectares.

In terms of surface area, this will be the first time a project of this scale will be implemented in the world for the cultivation of algae into bioenergy using wastewater treatment. In New Mexico, there is a six-hectare biofuel production site but this uses artificial fertilizer, not waste nutrients. Various other installations around ten 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.

Frank Rogalla, project coordinator and FCC Aqualia’s director of innovation and technology, said: “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 EU 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 €12M All-gas project, with EU funding of €7.1M, can be considered a global benchmark.

The All-Gas project proposes using 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.

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 – the University of Southampton; Fraunhofer -Gesellschaft in Germany; BDI in Austria; and Feyecon y Hygear in the Netherlands.

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