December 8, 2010

Biodiesel from microalgae: Clean, renewable and local energy for Chile

Algae Fuels S.A. consortium to establish pilot production of microalgae in Mejillones for second generation biodiesel production.

In what is considered a pioneering initiative in Chile, the corporate technological consortium Algae Fuels S.A., formed by E-CL, Copec, Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile, Rentapack and Bioscan, presented a project today to produce second generation biodiesel from microalgae.

The initiative currently supported by InnovaChile of Corfo, consists in establishing a pilot plant in Mejillones to grow microalgae for biofuel production. The construction of the plant will take five years and require a total investment of $6.836 million, of which InnovaChile will contribute $3.245 million.

This R&D project will allow the companies forming Algae Fuels S.A. to contribute to the development of a local, renewable energy source, thus helping to reduce CO2 emissions, while creating new opportunities within their respective industries.

Second generation biodiesel production does not require vast arable land and has no impact on global food production. On the contrary, microalgae are capable of growing quickly in confined spaces. They represent a continuous and inexhaustible source of energy which is also capable of trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by thermoelectric power plants in order to utilize it for their growth.

The process for second generation biodiesel production involves a first stage of "prospection, isolation, purification and selection of microalgae strains" which starts with collecting microalgae from the Second Region sea, then analyzing them in Santiago and finally singling out the strains most likely to develop in the climate conditions of the Atacama desert. The following stage of "microalgae biomass cake production" involves shipping the algae to a field lab in Mejillones, where they are placed in photobioreactors for the algae to feed from the CO2 emitted by the chimney of a thermoelectric power plant. Thanks to the excellent thermal radiation conditions, the photosynthesis process is accelerated. This phase includes moving the microalgae from the photobioreactors to pools where they continue to develop and reproduce. The following step is "harvesting"; the algae species are subject to several chemical processes (flocculation) and centrifugation, in order to obtain the algae biomass cake. Finally, the product is dried in special ovens and chemically processed in order to obtain biofuels, among other components.

The project is currently in an early stage that involves the selection of microalgae strains that are most useful for the process. Also the field lab, including the photobioreactors, cultivation pools, centrifuge and drying machines is currently under construction. After this stage is completed, the pilot plant of an approximate surface area of 2 hectares will be opened in order to produce biodiesel on a larger scale while increasing its consumption of CO2.

The Algae Fuels partners share the hope that they will make a significant contribution to the country's biotechnology industry by producing sustainable fuel and, eventually, exporting this pioneering technology to countries with similar climate conditions as the Atacama Desert, and with power production centers similar to Mejillones.

Moreover the initiative will represent a source of employment primarily for the local workforce.

Biodiesel doesn't only benefit the environment. The production process yields by-products that can also be developed by Algae Fuels S.A.; for instance, algae biomass flour, used in the production of fertilizers, cosmetics and the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries. Given the nutritional value of microalgae flour obtained from selected strains, the company will also evaluate its potential use in the food industry for animal consumption or in the functional foods market.

Source : E-CL


iVision4U said...

With an investment of only 7M and being spread over 5 years this simply sounds like a big experiment as opposed to commercialization

Editor said...

$7 million spread over 5 years is a pretty small budget. But this is a pilot scale operation and I would also assume that in Chili that amount of money would go farther than here where wages and probably goods as well are more expensive. But it is interesting that companies around the world are working towards the same goals. I have to think that the more people working on algae the better the chance that the breakthroughs needed to advance it to commercial viability will be made.

Gerardo said...

I´m preatty sure, the dot its a comma, so it is not only $6.8 or $7 million, it is $6,836 millions!

Editor said...

I would think that the $6.8 million number is correct. Remember this is a pilot scale facility which is usually under 1 million gallons of annual production. And also $6,836 million would be $6.836 billion which is enough to build several commercial sized operations.

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