Monthly Archives: August 2014

The integrated biorefinery concept

The integrated biorefinery concept

Are algae a valuable biomass resource for large scale production of biofuels? As part of the research community, we are still working to give a complete and clear answer to this question that is inspiring research institutes and companies from all around the world.

Without any doubt, algae are a valuable biomass due to their high content in proteins, lipids and carbohydrates that can be converted into fuels (e.g. biogas, biodiesel, bioethanol). In the last few years, this potential energy has been investigated on the details producing a number of high quality publications highlighting pros and cons of the algae biofuels production process. Here are the top four issues:

  1. high biomass production costs;
  2. inefficient harvesting technologies;
  3. energy intensive downstream processing;
  4. negative overall energy balance.

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In other words, the process is still far away from being able to produce and process enough algae biomass to obtain any algae-fuels able to compete with the market price of other fuels/biofuels. Even in the most positive scenarios, on the short term, the direct production of biofuels from algae is a non-economical option, However, when considering the algae-biofuels as part of a more complex and articulated production chain where first the biomass is processed to extract high valuable products (high market price), and then the residues are converted into fuels, the economics of the system start to be promising. This is the integrated biorefinery concept.

Focused on macroalgae collected and cultivated in Norway by SINTEF, the project at Scandinavian Biogas Fuels AB, Linköping (SE), is contributing to prove this concept looking by intvestigating long term digestion performances. Working on continuous digestion trials, the project tests different operational conditions and algae substrates to simulate full scale AD plant performances and different algae processing strategies.

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Suggested literature:

“Benefits of combining anaerobic digestion and amino acid extraction from microalgae” in Chemical Engineering Journal by Ramos-Suárez et al., 2014. DOI:10.1016/j.cej.2014.07.086

“Techno-economic assessment of biofuel development by anaerobic digestion of European marine cold-water seaweeds” in Bioresource Technology by Dave et al., 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.biortech.2013.01.005.

Francesco Ometto, ATBEST Researcher, Scandinavian Biogas Fuels

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Summer school in Germany: “Enhanced technologies for anaerobic digestion”

Our first summer school was held in Essen, Germany.  The host of the event was the University of Duisburg-Essen with the collaboration of CUAS. It was celebrated from the 30th June until the 4th July in 2014.

The host city, Essen, has 600.000 inhabitants and is one of the ten largest cities in Germany; it is located in the Ruhr area. Ruhr area is one of the most industrialized areas in Europe. In the 19th century Essen became a center of the mining and steel industry. Today the majority of Essen’s inhabitants work in the service industries.

Duisburg-Essen Universität is a young university; it was founded in 2003 when the University of Essen merged with University of Duisburg. Nowadays, about 30.000 students study here. Circa 5.000 students come from foreign countries. The spectrum ranges vary from humanities and social sciences to art and design, natural and engineering sciences up to medicine, in 13 different faculties.

The summer school was a complete week of activities; presentations, lectures, workshops, teamwork, technical and cultural trips. The scheduled activities were varied from technical lectures and workshops to skills training.

Some of the technical lectures were:

  • AD in Germany and Europe
  • Using Fluorescence-in-situ-hybridization (FISH) to detect the presence of different kinds of bacteria in sludge”
  • Basics on reactor design
  • Integrated sewage sludge treatment and co-fermentation to increase biogas production
  • The :metabolon project: material conversion and cycle and sustainable resource management”
  • Control and monitoring systems

The technical visits were to the Central Sewage Sludge Treatment Plant Bottrop and to the Landfill site Leppe (:metabolon).

Image 1: Central Sewage Sludge Treatment Plant Bottrop

Image 1: Central Sewage Sludge Treatment Plant Bottrop

They were our first days of cohabitation, without supervisors, time to share, to learn and to work together.

Image 2: Lecture at Central Sewage Sludge Treatment Plant Bottrop

Image 2: Lecture at Central Sewage Sludge Treatment Plant Bottrop

Also, we had time for fun; we visit Zeche Zollverein, a coal mine that shut down in 1993. The buildings and facilities have been included into the ranks of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2001. As well we had a guided tour in Essen including Villa Hügel and the Baldeney lake.

In summary, the first summer school was really well organized in contents, variety of activities, times and fun.

Image 3: Dinner in Der Löwe, Essen.

Image 3: Dinner in Der Löwe, Essen.

Paz Vilanova Plan, ATBEST Researcher, University of Duisbury-Essen

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