We envision a future of large-scale outdoor production on sunlight and waste carbon dioxide for a combination of foods, feeds, chemicals and energy carriers. For commercial production of algae or cyanobacteria for commodities, production costs should decrease tenfold and scale of production should increase to industrial scale. To bring this vision closer we are working hard on new cultivation technologies for large-scale production as well as improving the operation strategy of state-of the art production systems. We do this in close collaboration with industrial partners from the food, feed, oil and chemical
sectors as well with partners working on technology development and process engineering.
Indoors, we use bench-scale photobioreactors in order to study and quantify microalgae growth in relation to the most relevant cultivation parameters: light, CO2 and O2 levels, temperature, pH and nutrient concentrations. Moreover, to a certain extent outdoor cultivation conditions can be simulated
in our laboratory scale systems. Light is mostly supplied by white LED’s that give a constant light output, or day/night rhythms mimicking outdoor conditions. Based on this research, microalgal growth in photobioreactors is modelled via simplified kinetic models, which can be used to better understand our observations in large scale systems and/or to improve the operation or design of larger scale systems.
Pilot plant scale
Pilot scale research on microalgae is needed to bridge the gap between laboratory scale research and commercial applications. The AlgaePARC pilot facility was constructed in 2011 to bridge this gap. Objective of this pilot centre is to compare and improve photobioreactors and operational strategies under outdoor conditions. The pilot plant facility consists of 4 state-of-the-art production systems (raceway pond, horizontal tubular reactor, vertically stacked tubular reactor, and parallel flat panels) and allows for the comparison of the performance of these systems under identical climatological conditions. In all systems water, and energy use, as well as CO2 consumption and O2 production, are measured online. Irradiance and ambient temperature are measured online as well. Nutrient usage and manpower required are logged for each photobioreactor system. The systems are controlled via a central computer system facilitating automatic operation and online data collection. In addition to these state-of-the-art systems, new photobioreactor concepts are being tested at the AlgaePARC pilot facility. The kinetic models describing photobioreactor productivity developed in the laboratory can be validated on pilot scale under outdoor conditions. In more comprehensive mathematical models also mass transfer (O2 and CO2) and heat transfer in outdoor photobioreactors are included. Finally, all data collected is used as input for a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that will determine cumulative energy demand, global warming potential and water consumption per system.
Scale-up to commercial scale is done by our industrial partners. We facilitate this with our mathematical models describing the microalgae production process as well as the LCA analysis of the whole production chain. For example, our models can be used to estimate commercial scale year-around productivities. Because economics are key for a commercial process, we also study how to decrease the costs of materials (CAPEX) and operation (OPEX) by applying innovative photobioreactors, smart operational strategies, automation (reducing manpower), recycling of water/material and nutrients and optimized temperature control.