Algae from the yard

[PLANTTECH • 15.01.2014]

Photobioreactors and the production of microalgae offer a variety of potentials in sustainability, environmental protection and new natural products.

German agriculture has proven its innovative worldwide leadership character in the energy turnaround and bio-cultivation. The increased agricultural interest in microalgae may be opening up a new chapter of this successful story.

Following the successful aquaculture program "Fish from the yard", the DLG started a new seminar program titled "Algae from the yard" which is intended to create a reference between microalgae research and agriculture. IGV Biotech is involved in this seminar program with a lecture on the fundamental design of photobioreactors.

Microalgae cultivation and agriculture fit together
The cultivation of microalgae uses sunlight, nutrients and CO2 to form biomass. Once harvested, this valuable biomass is processed into food supplements, or as raw materials for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. New developments plan to use the outstanding growth potential of the microalgae to produce biofuels, feeds or replacements for crude oil. Entirely new and varied synergies are created when we combine microalgae and agriculture. If, for instance, an agricultural operation has a biogas system, the nutrient-rich fermentation residue can fundamentally be used to grow algae. Algae can also utilise the CO2 which is formed when the produced biogas is burned or processed, making a further contribution to climate protection. At the end, the produced algae can be used internally as a feed or externally in biorefineries.

Photobioreactors as a new agricultural business field
The fundamental suitability of biogas exhaust and fermentation residue to cultivate algae was independently confirmed in various pre-tests and research projects. The photobioreactors which are required to cultivate algae are a significant investment, which can profit from various regional subsidy programs particularly in the decentralised agricultural field. The large variety on the product page is of interest to investors, since it is possible to choose between generating high quality specialised products and mass marketable base materials. Corresponding to the different products, various research groups and smaller companies have developed different technical concepts to produce algae.

Open systems which, due to their shape, are called "Raceway Ponds" are often used worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions. Due to the changeable Central European climate, low area efficiency and reduced product quality, however, they are unsuitable for German agriculture. To the present day, closed glass tube systems in particular have proven themselves in the production of high quality products. Within them, the algae are supplied with light in long glass tubes, and centrally with CO2 and nutrients. Simpler systems made from plastic foils, plastic sheets or according to the thin layer principle are currently being developed, and the successful implementation on a major scale is awaited.

IGV Biotech as a partner for agriculture
IGV Biotech has researched and developed facilities and concepts to utilise microalgae as a part of IGV GmbH since more than 30 years. Aside from various algae products such as active substance extracts or the institution's own cosmetics series "Aquaflor", the glass tube based photobioreactors have become established worldwide in high quality production of microalgae. IGV Biotech is a worldwide leader with more than 200 sold photobioreactors, and continues to engage itself in mass-marketable industrial production of microalgae.