Energy of the future
Microalgae are an energy-efficient product of the future. Dutch algae cultivation platform specialist Sander Hazewinkel of LGem is presenting it at Expo 2017, inspired by the motto “Future Energy.”
What do microalgae have to do with this motto? Will we have algae-powered cars in the future?
Microalgae save fossil fuels, but I don’t mean by using it as biofuel as much as that it allows for more energy-efficient production. The best example is omega-3 fatty acids. They come from fish oil. Four kilograms of fish – herring, mackerel or salmon for instance – are needed for every liter of oil. Starting with the fuel for the fish trawler and going up through further processing, all the production steps require enormous amounts of energy. If the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from microalgae biomass, the energy demand is 90 percent lower.
What else could microalgae be used for?
Biomass can also be used for food and feed as well as cosmetics and medicines. It’s sort of an “energy for the body.” This market is actually even bigger than biofuels. So the little organisms have considerable financial potential.
At Expo 2017, the algae are creatively staged in a glass photobioreactor. What is the idea behind this?
We want to raise awareness. That algae can be cultivated and put to good use – and that they provide the energy of the future. What better way than with a futuristic design. So we modeled the photobioreactor in the shape of a house. It’s supposed to remind people of everyday life. Glass has the best “look and feel” for that, and it fits the motto: it’s environmentally friendly and recyclable.
How did the project go? What were the highlights/challenges?
On the one hand, construction design was a challenge. Photobioreactors aren’t typically installed in this form. Some tubes had to be specially made in order to have the right bending angles. The final design was made possible by a combination of SCHOTT standard glass tubes and connections as well as specially processed tubes from the Dutch glassblower VBGL. The other challenge was our situation at the Expo. When we arrived in Astana, the entire Expo area was a giant construction site. So not only did we not have much time, but also very little space, since we were surrounded by chaos. But in the end, that’s precisely what our highlight was. Despite the challenges, everything worked out and we were set up in time. Coordinating with the other teams in such a tight space was impressive and the event coordinator ADUNIC did a really great job too. Our motto for the future: if we could set it up there, we can set it up anywhere.
What do you hope comes from presenting at Expo 2017?
We want the presentation to raise awareness that algae are an alternative to traditional energy production. Ecologically and economically. The algae industry is a growth sector and we want to give everyone involved a little extra attention.