Efficient cultivation and harvesting of microalgae

[Spain] Two Spanish universities developed a more effective method for microalgae cultivation and harvesting, rising its yield up to 85% in comparison to existing photobioreactors on the market.

The patented invention (not granted yet) is useful for algae biomass production at industrial scale. This biomass could be used for several applications, e.g. as a carbon source in biogas plants. Although open to technical cooperation, they are mainly interested in licensing the invetion to microalgae producers.

Currently, the cultivation and harvesting of microalgae is a method of obtaining biofuels that is attracting attention. Once microalgae are grown and harvested, the biomass can be converted into different value-added products such as biofuels in a clean, reproducible and sustainable manner by a sequence of chemical processes. In systems known to date, the cultivation of microalgae takes place generally in open ponds or in closed photobioreactors. The main advantages of open ponds are easy operation and low cost of investment and operation, but they are very sensitive to contamination and have low capacity to automate.

On the other hand, photobioreactors have high investment costs but they solve the problems associated with contamination and automation. However, despite the great interest and the advance in the cultivation of microalgae, there are still many challenges to be overcome before that cultivation of microalgae can become a viable technology for energy production and large-scale product manufacture. These challenges include, among others: improving the efficiency of algal biomass production and harvesting, the application of an integrated technology, detailed operation (equipment, guideline values for operation) and tested process to enable its implementation on an industrial scale.

Researchers from two Spanish universities have developed a new method for cultivation and harvesting of algae that significantly increases the efficacy compared to current methods. The developed method is an integrated system that allows a continuous and uninterrupted operation of the entire process (cultivation and harvesting), decreasing installation and operating costs.

Moreover, since the method has two filtration units (one for pre-harvesting and one for the harvesting), it is possible to separate the concentration of the solids that is maintained in the photobioreactor from the concentration purged from the system. It permits to optimize the concentration in each unit to achieve higher biomass productivity and facilitate the harvesting process. Thus, the developed system overcomes the disadvantages of the up-to-date described procedures.

The invention is applicable in the industrial scale production of algae biomass. This biomass could be used for one or more of the following applications:

  • as a CO2 sink;
  • as a raw material for industrial production of lipids, proteins and other value-added products associated with the food industry;
  • as raw material to produce biodiesel and bio-fertilizers;
  • as a carbon source in biogas production plants and;
  • as sustainable treatment system for the recovery of the nutrients in the wastewater.

The companies sought should be active in the production of microalgae to be used in fisheries, biogas environments, fuel gas reduction, biological waste water clearing, oil production and pharmaceutical applications. Additional fields are harvesting, downstreaming and extraction of microalgae. The university is mainly interested in licensing this technology. However, the researchers are also open to technical cooperation agreements to further development.

Advantages and innovation:

The most innovative aspect of this invention is that makes available the production of algal biomass in an efficient way, increasing up to 85% the productivity comparing with a conventional photobioreactor.

While, the main advantages of the invention are the following:

  • It allows the production of algal biomass in an efficient way, decreasing the associated production costs, reducing the energy consumption and thus, minimizing the environmental impact associated with such processes.
  • It is possible to maximize the recovery of nutrients if it is working with wastewater and to obtain a liquid stream with characteristics that enable its reuse.
  • The production of concentrated algal biomass that enables its further use as commercial products.


Photo credit: Dr. Claudio Fuentes Grünewald (Biomass and Lipid Production of Dinoflagellates and Raphidophytes in Indoor and Outdoor Photobioreactors)

View original article at: Efficient cultivation and harvesting of microalgae

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