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TNO and partners to build mobile algae bio-refinery

The Netherlands-based TNO and algae cultivator Algae Food and Fuel will build a mobile algae bio-refinery for use in a large number of spots where algae can be cultivated. The refining of algae into purified raw materials will allow these to be used as food ingredients and chemicals, thereby replacing substances with a high carbon footprint with the more sustainable option of algae-based ingredients.

The start-up phase is expected to be completed after the first quarter of 2014 and this will be followed by installation at various locations for algae cultivation.

Algae have been regarded as a potentially sustainable feedstock source for the production of all kinds of products. Unfortunately, algae have only been produced on a small scale to date owing to the relatively high costs involved. However, the costs of cultivation can be compensated by refining the algae on site and purifying the ingredients, thereby boosting the net value generated. This is currently the focus of the program “GAIA: Getting Algae Ingredients Applied” of TNO, Sabic, van Wijhe Verf and de Wit Oils.

The value of a kilo of algae can be boosted by opening the algae cells through refining and then separating and purifying the large fractions (specifically proteins, fats and carbohydrates). The main challenge during the bio-refining process is to retain the functionalities of the different algae ingredients.

This requires a mild process technology that will be installed in the mobile refinery. Apart from the technology that enables the algae to be opened, the mobile installation contains membrane modules, extraction equipment and a number of reactor vessels. There is also scope to test on a larger scale new breakthrough technologies generated in the lab.

By purifying the algae on a relatively large scale (1 kg of dry matter per hour), significant quantities of algae ingredients become available. This is necessary if the industrial parties in the GAIA consortium are to have the opportunity to test the ingredients within their current production lines and thus replace non-sustainable ingredients. Examples of the ingredients that will be produced are high-nutritional proteins, oil, omega-3 fatty acids, emulsifiers, pigments, antioxidants and fibres. Within the GAIA consortium there are still a few places available for parties who would like to switch to sustainable algae-based ingredients/products.


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