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Home » Algae/Other Aquatic Organisms/Seaweed, Farming/Growing, Feedstock, Feedstocks, Infrastructure, R & D Focus, Sustainability, UK (United Kingdom), University/College Programs

Cambridge Researcher Dr Matt Davey on How Algae Could Be Used for Energy, Healthcare and Monitoring Penguins from Space

Submitted by on July 7, 2017 – 4:10 pmNo Comment

by Paul Brackley (Cambridge Independent)  If you thought algae was just sludge, think again as we venture inside The Algal Innovation Centre at Cambridge Univerity’s Botanic Garden.  —  … Defying the inhospitable temperature, Dr Matt Davey bravely slips on his fetching green lab coat – it’s horticultural attire, you see – and explains more.

“The Algal Innovation Centre is a very expensive greenhouse – but it’s classified as a lab,” he says.

Built at a cost of £500,000 by the University of Cambridge, including £188,600 from a European Union project to research alternatives to fossil fuels, the centre opened at the Botanic Garden last year and is designed to take lab research to an industrial scale.

“It looks like a normal greenhouse but there are a few hidden features in here – like a sealed floor so that if there are any spills we can contain them. We have ‘swimming pools’ here where we can do scale-up experiments up to 1,000 litres,” says Matt, a senior research associate at the Department of Plant Sciences.

“When oil was 150 dollars per barrel it was an economically viable solution, but as the oil price crashed to 40 dollars it wasn’t worth investing in the technology to grow the algae.”

“Cambridge Water has lots of nitrate waste to deal with,” explains Matt. “We wondered whether we could take the waste and produce artificial algal blooms. It’s what we call a bio-circular economy – we take waste from one industry source, grow the algae and then do something with it such as produce methane for electricity or heat production rather than putting the nitrates back into the water supply.”

The methane production is carried out using anaerobic digestion – the same process already in use at plants around the country.

Recreating the optimum conditions for algal growth at an industrial scale turns out to be tricky.

“Like all plants, you need enough light and nutrients. But with a bigger volume and a denser culture, you get a very dark green sludge algae bioreactor and the light will only penetrate five or 10 centimetres.

“So you need a lot of mixing. If you use a lot of artificial light, it’s expensive, so we’ve been experimenting with LED lighting for lower energy consumption.”

Air lift reactors are used at the Algal Innovation Centre to bubble air through the algae, turning it as it moves. But in addition to light for photosynthesis. algae need nutrients such as the aforementioned nitrates, along with phosphates, potassium and more – and some species need a vitamin B12 boost.  READ MORE

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