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Goal: Make algae-based carbon capture viable

292925_algae_under_waterArup and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) are working to scale up a novel system that uses algae to capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and factories.

Such a system could close the carbon cycle, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, using wastes to produce environmentally friendly bio-based products and reducing reliance on fossil fuels and artificial chemicals in crop growth.

If successful, the new system will allow the biomass from algae to be recycled and used to produce a wide variety of products. These could provide an additional source of revenue to offset carbon capping investment, and they include:

  • Bioethanol, which can be used as a motor fuel;
  • Biopharmaceuticals;
  • Methane-rich biogas, which could reduce dependence on fossil fuels; and
  • Rich compost, a non-chemical soil conditioner for crop production.

The idea first originated during through Arup’s work on carbon capture and research into food technologies for the Dongtan eco-city project in China. It has been further developed with process and systems engineers from the CPI.

“The use of algae in this way could have a vast impact on the environment,” said Peter Head, global head of planning at Arup. “It not only has the potential to reduce the carbon dioxide that power plants emit by 70 to 80 per cent — improving their carbon footprint. The algae could potentially provide an alternative source of fuel in itself, and through its by-products, a new revenue stream to support investment in carbon capture technologies.”

“The roll-out will be a great challenge for the process development and construction industries,” said Graham Hillier, low-carbon energy director at CPI. “We are planning a rapid research and development programme to move the concept from small-scale testing to larger scale demonstration. We are also looking at ways of integrating the processes into existing power supply and waste management systems.”

The idea is being unveiled in London today at the “Breakthroughs for the 21st Century” event hosted by the Sustainable Development Commission.

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