Taiwan develops method of making biofuel from microalgae

[Taiwan] Taiwanese researchers have developed a system that uses microalgae cultivated in partially treated wastewater as a feedstock for biomedicine and biofuel production, providing huge business opportunities.

It took a research team at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology five years to develop the microalgae cultivation and biodiesel production system, which won the top prize in the university category in a national energy innovation competition last year. The technology has also begun attracting attention from the academic and business sectors from home and abroad, said Tsai Wen-tien (蔡文田), director of the university’s Graduate Institute of Bioresources and the team leader.

Microalgae are a group of unicellular or simple multicellular fast- growing photosynthetic microorganisms that live on carbon dioxide (CO2) from different sources, including industrial exhaust gases and soluble carbonate salts, according to Tsai.

The team cultivated the microalgae by coupling a wastewater treatment process with an algal photobioreactor for nutrient removal and biomass production, using enriched CO2 from industrial exhaust gases, according to Tsai.

Like other plants and organisms, microalgae use photosynthesis to turn light, carbon dioxide and a few nutrients into plant oils, carbohydrates and proteins that make up their cell structure, Tsai added.

The technology will allow the production of not only biodiesel but also health supplements such as fish oil, and cosmetic additives, as well as fishing lures and bait, said researcher Lee Yu-ju (李育儒).

The cost of using wastewater and exhaust gases for the cultivation of microalgae is low, Lee noted, adding that every 100 metric tons of waste water can produce about 70 kilograms of microalgae.

Microalgae not only captures CO2 but also creates prolific microalgal cultures that can be used in the production of air and water purifiers.

Meanwhile, microalgae grows fast and consumes CO2 and emits oxygen as it does so, helping to reduce the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Moreover, microalgae can grow on marginal or non-crop land, so does not compete with valuable agricultural land, Tsai said.

Some biotechnology companies are already engaged in the cultivation of microalgae on a large scale, according to Tsai.

Also expressing optimism about the outlook for green energy technology, Tai Chang-hsien (戴昌賢), the president of the university, said it could turn waste into enormous business opportunities.


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