Microalgae set to reduce carbon emissions
Research scientists from the Department of Biosciences at Swansea University’s College of Science are completing final preparations for a groundbreaking new project whereby emerging low carbon technologies will be deployed to assist a consortium of local companies across South Wales.
The 30 month project, known as ACCOMPLISH (Algal Carbon Capture and BiOMass Production - LInked Supply cHain) is being supported with more than £425,000 by EU structural funds, the Welsh Government and resources from industrial partners, and aims to harness the properties of photosynthetic microalgae to reduce carbon emissions and provide sustainable energy.
Microalgae are a group of single celled, aquatic organisms capable of converting carbon dioxide, light, water and other compounds into potentially viable biomass. By culturing microalgae intensively in discrete growth chambers installed adjacent to chimney stacks, this innovative technology provides a novel approach to lock away carbon as components of living cells.
Dr Adam Powell, Knowledge Transfer Officer at the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR) within the College of Science said: “With a number of power stations and heavy industry installations in the region, Wales’ carbon footprint is significant with approximately 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted every year. In addition to environmental benefits, imminent EU taxation on carbon emissions has created an economic imperative to reduce the carbon footprint of industry, making this project very timely.”
In assessing the impact of algae-mediated carbon capture, two Port Talbot-based enterprises have already committed to the project.
These include key regional employer TATA Steel Strip Products UK Ltd and the first biomass power station in Wales, the Western Wood Biomass Plant.
Dr Powell added: “In addition to carbon capture, the biomass produced from the process could yield an economic and sustainable feedstock, suitable for energy production and a potential alternative to carbon neutral fuels such as wood.
“The energy composition of microalgal biomass and its suitability as a carbon negative fuel will also be assessed within the ACCOMPLISH programme.”
Harvesting, or “dewatering” the microalgal cells from a liquid culture is crucial to complete this supply chain.
In ac hieving this ACCOMPLISH will work with Axium Process Ltd, based in Hendy, near Swansea, which has demonstrable expertise in the concentration and separation of liquid streams.
The company’s role will be to help optimise the removal of microalgal cells from liquid culture, thereby creating a more concentrated feedstock suitable for use as a fuel or other products such as pharmaceuticals, feeds or cosmetics.
The ACCOMPLISH project will be co-ordinated by a research team based at CSAR at Swansea University. CSAR is already leading a number of applied microalgal research projects.
1 and 3: fluorescent microscopic images of microalgae. Pics courtesy of Dr Emily Roberts, Swansea University.
2 and 4: conventional images of microalgal cultures.
This news item forms part of Swansea University’s support for the second annual Universities Week, which takes place from 13-19 June 2011, and aims to increase public awareness of the wide and varied role of the universities in Wales and across Britain.
Universities Week looks at the many different ways in which universities affect all of our lives — from supporting the economy, to working within local communities, to looking at how their research programmes could change our futures. Hundreds of events will be taking place around the country open to members of the public, as well as high-profile media coverage and activity across social media networks.