Microalgae are solar powered cell factories that produce food, fuels and bioproducts and facilitate bioremediation.
Many aspects of the process are being optimised from the point of light capture, CO2 supply and nutrient provision through to the optimisation of specific traits.
Microalgae absorb sunlight and CO2 and store the captured energy and carbon in the form of biomolecules; including proteins, carbohydrates and lipids, which collectively make up biomass. Microalgae therefore offer a path to CO2-neutral fuel production which can be coupled with CO2 sequestration.
Microalgae have the potential to produce biofuels more efficiently than other biofuel crops and can be grown on non-arable land using fresh, saline and waste water, eliminating competition between food and fuel production (a common concern for other biofuel systems).
This opens up new economic opportunities for arid regions. Microalgae systems produce feedstocks for the production of food and fuel products on a continuous basis as opposed to a seasonal basis as occurs with crops. The combined use of closed bioreactor systems and salt tolerant strains can further increase water use efficiency within the biofuels industry.
Green Technology Solutions
- H2: Solar driven H2 production from water is theoretically the most efficient form of biofuel production.
- Oil Based Fuels (Diesel and Aviation fuels): Microalgae produce oils. These can be extracted for the production of aviation and diesel based fuels. Methods are also being developed to convert all of the biomass to oil based products.
- Ethanol: Microalgae can produce ethanol directly or microalgal biomass high in carbohydrates can be used for the production of alcohol based fuels.
- Methane: Microalgae biomass can be anaerobically digested to produce methane. An added advantage is that a large proportion of the nutrients in the biomass can theoretically be recovered and recycled.
- Bioproducts: Biomass is a complex combination of biomolecules. These can be fractionated to produce a wide range of feedstocks for downstream processing. Microalgae biomass can for example be used as a source for pigments, omega-3 fatty acids, other neutraceticals, protein rich fish and animal feeds, amino acids, complex sugars and a range of high value oils.
- Bioremediation: Micaroalgae absorb nutrients for growth. This process can be used for a range of bioremediation processes such as domestic waste water treatment and an the bioremediation of mine sites.