The energy unit at Spain’s TECNALIA is researching the potential of mass production of microalgae as a crop that can be converted into energy.
Among the researchers’ areas of focus: the selection of stocks, the optimisation of crop production systems (open, closed and mixed), and the optimisation of various operation variables in the harvesting and final treatment of the microalgae.
The energy unit is also studying other aspects, such as the capture of CO2 as a nutrient for the algae, the use of saline industrial effluents and the valuation of sub-products.
To mass-produce microalgae into biomass or bio-oils, a number of technological fields must be developed. The goal is to achieve great rates of productivity at low operational costs and investment, at the same time as studying the application of the best technologies available for harvesting and treating the microalgae crop in large, liquid-medium volumes until achieving the dry biomass itself or the bio-oils extracted from the microalgae are obtained at reasonable prices and which can be potentially used to produce energy and/or biofuels.
Microalgae — and its viability as a source of energy from biomass for energy use or by transformation into biofuels — is a field still in the research stage, but with interesting perspectives for the future. For the moment, the complete process has not yet been sufficiently developed at an industrial level to be exploited by industries in the sector. Nor has the viability of its application been adequately demonstrated, despite certain publicity by companies without any technological foundation.
For the moment, research is focused on developing viable processes and evaluating possible applications of interest to the industrial sector.