EnAlgae investigates membrane technology in microalgal biorefineries

[UK, EU] Engineers looking at the use of membrane filtration in microalgae biorefineries as part of the EnAlgae project have concluded that the technology has a fundamental part to play in realizing the full potential of microalgae as a feedstock for the future.

However the study warns that algae potential will only be realized if there is a combined effort on the part of engineers, biologists and other technologists to make this potential a reality.

Authors Michael Gerardo, Darren Oatley-Radcliffe and Robert Lovitt of Swansea University, UK, reviewed the latest studies and literature on the subject and discovered a lack of consistency in terms of the results of trials with different membrane pores and membrane materials. They also found a lack of pilot-scale cost estimates.

Published in the Journal of Membrane Science the paper provides a thorough review and analysis of associated membrane processes as well as discussion of the latest developments, limitations and future directions of membranes in microalgae biorefineries. They write: “Membrane fractionation of microalgae products seems to be front runners in the race to realise the potential of a microalgae based economy.

“Membrane technology has come a long way and is still expanding rapidly…The future of microalgae as a feedstock for sustainable biofuel is still uncertain. Low cost methodologies which maximise output are vital for this novel technology.

“As the research community attempts to realise the potential of such feedstock, membrane technology is expected to play a fundamental role in this process. Nonetheless, only a combined effort between the engineers, biologists and other technologists will bring this to reality.”

EnAlgae is a four-year Strategic Initiative of the INTERREG IVB North West Europe programme which brings together 19 partners, led by Swansea University, and 14 observers from across 7 EU Member States. The EnAlgae project aims to reduce CO2 emissions and dependency on unsustainable energy sources in NWE, by accelerating the development of sustainable technologies for algal biomass production, bioenergy and greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation from pilot phase to application and marketable products, processes and services.

 

Photo: Michael Gerardo

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