If Aqualia can produce 3,000 kg of dry algae a day it will be enough to fuel 400 cars. (Photo: FIS stock)
Biofuels to be produced from waste water
Wednesday, March 07, 2012, 04:10 (GMT + 9)
Spanish company Aqualia Gestion Integral del Agua SA has announced plans to launch a commercial-scale demonstration scheme using waste water to farm algae and create biofuels enough to power 400 vehicles.
The water management company is working together with European partners and has begun building algae culture ponds at a waste water treatment plant in Chiclana, northern Spain, which is expected to yield 500 l of biodiesel a year and 1,500 m3 of biomethane.
The EUR 12 million-project will spawn fast-growing micro-algae through the use of sunshine and nutrients already available in waste water, and then converting it into biofuels like biodiesel and biomethane for transport.
"Today we are wasting resources and producing useless sludge. Now we can use it to produce biofuel and have a positive impact," explained Frank Rogalla, innovation and technology manager at Aqualia, Reuters reports.
If the company can produce 3,000 kg of dry algae a day with an oil content of 20 per cent, the project will be amplified to commercial-scale size of 10 ha to produce 200,000 l of biodiesel a year and 600,000 m3 of biomethane – enough to fuel 400 cars.
The project will run a prototype facility during the first two years and scale it up to implement the technology on 10 ha of algal culture ponds in the subsequent three years, Bloomberg reports.
Micro-algae is more convenient than first-generation biofuel crops like palm oil, sugar cane and canola because it can be grown in three days and requires less land.
"Oil productivity can be 10 to 20 times higher than from any known plant," Rogalla noted.
The European Commission (EC) has funded half of the project and is seeking to power 10 per cent of energy used in transport in the European Union (EU) from renewable sources by 2020.
While analysts doubt the EU will be able to meet its 2020 targets unless it uses some biodiesel feedstocks, algae biofuel has thus far only worked at small scale and has not been cost-effective.
A 2010 UK government report in 2010 calculated that the oil yield of 25 per cent typical of many algae species means the industry would need to be scaled up at least 300 times to produce 5 per cent of the diesel used in the UK in 2009.
Algae biofuels would also need to be cheap enough to compete with conventional oil, but Rogalla is optimistic. He says oil prices are climbing and the nitrogen and phosphorus the algae need to grow is freely abundant in waste water.
"We need to decrease the cost of production by five times to be competitive with oil," he said. "We think it could be competitive with fossil fuels by 2015, but I could be wrong by a year or two."
"I think we will be the first in Europe," Rogalla added.
By Natalia Real