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European Commission funds international algae collaboration

By Bryan Sims | May 25, 2011

An international collaboration of nine partners from seven countries has come together to form The BIOfuel Algae Technologies Project (BIOFAT) that focuses on the feasibility of  producing ethanol, biodiesel and other bioproducts derived from microalgae on a commercial scale.

Abengoa Bioenergia Nuevas Tecnologias, a subsidiary of Abengoa Bioenergy, will lead the transnational consortium drawn from the academic, industrial and public sectors of for the BIOFAT project. ABNT centralizes its research and development activities and is focused on the production and development of biofuels for transport, including ethanol and biodiesel from biomass feedstock. Among others, the project includes the University of Florence (Italy), A4F-AlgaFuel (Portugal), Ben-Gurion University (Israel), Fotosintetica and Microbiologica (Italy), Evodos (Netherlands), AlgoSource Technologies (France), IN SRL (Italy) and Hart Energy.

Specifically, BIOFAT aims to maximize the benefits from algae while minimizing environmental impacts. The development team will train on existing prototypes in Israel, Portugal and Italy, and then scale up the process to a 10-hectare (24.7 acres) demonstration plant—called an “algorefinery”—to be located somewhere in Spain. The process will begin with strain selection and proceed to biological optimization of the culture media, monitored algae cultivation, low energy harvesting and technology integration. The project, expected to last four years, will produce approximately 900 tons of algae annually.

Hart Energy will be in charge of disseminating results of the project. Maelle Soares-Pinto, Hart Energy’s Director of Biofuels for Europe and Africa, told Biorefining Magazine that progress reports on BIOFAT will be available every three to four months. A website is anticipated to be built shortly that will feature publications, progress updates and other relevant presentations to the project.

Funding for BIOFAT was provided by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program, the EU’s primary instrument for funding research and demonstration activities from 2007 through 2013. According to Pinto, the total Seventh Framework Program budget for the seven-year period amounts to $69 billion. EU member states and the European Parliament have earmarked a total of $3 billion over the duration of the Seventh Framework Program for funding energy-related projects.

This allocated budget is split on an equal basis between research projects to be managed by the Directorate General for Research and demonstration projects that are managed by the Directorate General for Energy. Since the inception of the Seventh Framework Program, the DG ENER has issued calls for demonstration projects that put particular emphasis on biofuel production from lignocellulosic biomass and addresses all the value chains from biomass resources to a final, marketable biofuel.

According to Pinto in email correspondence, “In total, 14 proposals were submitted by various industrial groups from which three projects, including BIOFAT, were shortlisted for support. These contracts (BIOFAT, ALLGAS and INTESUSAL) were signed in early 2011. The total cost for the three projects is about $42 million and the corresponding EC contribution amounts to about $27 million.”

The Seventh Framework Program Call Topic of 2010 is aimed at large-scale demonstration of biofuels production from algae with ambitious, but achievable targets, according to Pinto, such as a minimum plantation area of 10 hectares, and a minimum productivity of 90 dry solid tons per hectare per year.

Pinto said, “The call was restricted to only projects in which the carbon dioxide supply for the algae cultivation was provided by renewable applications, excluding carbon dioxide generated from fossil fuel installations.” 

 

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