Algae – the new biomass?

Date: 05/02/2015

As a renewable raw material, algae have great potential for use in a sustainable production system. COWI is currently involved in a development project to examine the possibilities for industrial cultivation of micro-algae.

​It is important to look at how biomass can be produced in different ways and from different raw materials if we are to manage the transition from a fossil-dependent economy to a sustainable society based on renewable raw materials for the production of chemicals, including fine chemicals, fuels, biomaterials and bioplastics.

Algae are very attractive as a renewable raw material because of their great potential for incorporation in a sustainable production system. As things stand, however, more development is needed on production methods and processes to enable large-scale industrial cultivation of algae.

Focus on the Nordic climate
A study on the potential of algae will be conducted during 2015 and will examine the conditions for industrial algaculture, focussing on the Nordic climate and other factors that prevail in northern Europe. The emphasis will be mainly on the cultivation of saltwater algae, as fresh water is in short supply around the world and should be used for human consumption.

The work will include a literature review and the production of an experimental study, before moving on to tests cultivating different kinds of algae.

The project will also look into ways of scaling up and adapting algaculture to an industrial level, based on the conditions in place within the industry.

Raw material to chemicals
The investigations into the potential of algae are one of the initiatives by the ‘Chemical Industry Cluster’ in the West of Sweden, which aims to bring about and support sustainable development within the industry.

COWI is working with the Industrial Biotechnology division at Chalmers University of Technology, the Swedish Testing and Research Institute and Perstorp at Stenungsund.

The EHS Manager at Perstorp, Sonja Blom, explains: “Algae can produce large quantities of biomass and digest nutrients like sulphur and phosphorus. The algae also absorb carbon dioxide and heavy metals from the water. If algae can also be used as a source of biodiesel or as a raw material for other chemicals, there will be many positive effects working together. We will have our environment cleaned by solar energy at the same time as we switch over to renewable raw materials.”

Contributing to the green transformation
“With support from COWIfonden and this partnership, COWI can make an active contribution to the switch to a sustainable industry in the long term,” says Anna Berggren, marketing manager for bio-energy at COWI.