A consortium of six R&D centers in the Basque Autonomous Community, Navarre and France—NEIKER-Tecnalia, National center of Renewable Energies (CENER), Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Association of Industry of Navarre (AIN), Association for the Environment and Safety in Aquitaine (APESA) and the center for the Application and Transformation of Agro-resources (CATAR-CRITT)—are participating in the European CYCLALG project to drive forward an algae-based biorefinery which aims to develop and validate technological processes designed to obtain biodiesel through algae cultivation.
The project involves a setup based on the circular economy in which the waste generated is used to provide nutritional components in the very process to cultivate microalgae.
CYCLALG is also based on a model of biorefinery that seeks to make comprehensive use of microalgal biomass, extend the useful service life of the waste generated in the process and diversify it into new products of interest in the chemical, energy and agricultural industries, thus giving the microalgae biomass added value and improving the economic framework of the process.
Apart from coordinating the project, NEIKER will be responsible for establishing the optimum, cost-effective, sustainable conditions of the heterotrophic crops that will be producing the algal biomass destined to obtain biodiesel.
The CYCLALG initiative will be run over the coming three years with a budget of €1.4 million (US$1.54 million), of which 65% is being provided by ERDF funds.
The project provides continuity for the results achieved in the ENERGREEN EFA217/11 project, in which most of the members of the current consortium participated and which demonstrated the technical feasibility of obtaining diesel through microalgae cultivation, their environmental advantages and the potential of these crops to establish integral exploitation setups or biorefineries.
The industrial deployment of microalgae crops as a source of biodiesel is limited by a significant fall in the productivity of oils in the pre-industrial scale phase, which is exerting a negative effect on the whole process. The CYCLALG project is providing new approaches to the problem by introducing the heterotrophic cultivation of species of oleaginous microalgae as an alternative means for improving the productive efficiency of the process.
In terms of productivity, the heterotrophic cultivation of microalgae as proposed in CYCLALG offers advantages over conventional phototrophic crops for obtaining biodiesel, even though they require organic sources of carbon and nitrogen that are much more expensive than traditional inorganic fertilizers.
CYCLALG is seeking to solve this economic limitation while improving efficiency in resource management by proposing the use of residual biomass coming from the extraction of oils (rich in sugars and proteins) in the preparation of nutritive mediums that will feed the crops again.
Among the technological aims of the project is the development and validation of technologies involving the hydrolysis, fractionation and solubilisation of waste into nutritional concentrates. Alternatively, the CYCLALG project is considering the development of other technologies that allow the upgrading of waste and co-products, such as the synthesis of biopolymers and other biomolecules, the obtaining of bio-fertilizers, animal foods, and the production of biomethane.