FUEL4ME is driven by the urgent need of transforming our energy model into a sustainable one, which pursues the European and global energy goals, reducing CO2 emissions, finding alternatives to fossil fuels and fostering the renewable energies. In order to make microalgae as a source for biofuels competitive with fossil fuels, it is important to reduce operational costs and to achieve a positive energy balance. The 4-year FUEL4ME project will establish a sustainable chain for continuous biofuel production using microalgae as a production platform, thereby making 2nd generation biofuels competitive alternatives to fossil fuels.
The overall aim of FUEL4ME is to establish a sustainable chain for biofuel production using microalgae as a production platform. This will be achieved by:
1) Transforming the current 2-step process for algal biomass production into a continuous 1-step process with high lipid content (production process);
2) Development of a continuous downstream process using all components of the algal biomass (conversion process);
3) Integration of production and conversion processes.
The specific research objectives of FUEL4ME are:
- Development of a continuous one-step process in which the lipid productivity in microalgal cultures is maximized and the lipid profile is optimized for biofuel production at low production and energy costs;
- Translation of the developed process to outdoors thereby achieving a robust and reliable production process with short downtime, continuous year round lipid production under different climates and weather conditions, and oil production of constant quality;
- To adopt and improve the most promising technologies for each individual conversion step;
- Demonstration of economic feasibility of the fully integrated production and conversion process leading to principle guidelines for actual production plant construction;
- Sustainability assessment of the integrated process in terms of costs, energy balance and environmental impact;
- Preparation for commercialization by involving relevant industrial partners, by means of an industrial platform, and defining an exploitation plan.
At Wageningen University has recently obtained promising lab results for the lipid producing algae species Neochloris, showing that continuous production of lipid at a high rate is possible under very specific controlled conditions. Within FUEL4ME, a similar process will be set up for the microalgae Phaeodactylum and Nannochloropsis and further tested and optimised outdoors.
In FUEL4ME we will not only develop a continuous production process of lipids from Phaeodactylum and Nannochloropsis in the lab, but take it one important step further: outdoor production. Goal is to proof the principle and obtain more representative data on biomass and lipid productivities, in order to better estimate the economic and technical feasibility of an industrial production plant in different locations.