Algae are organisms useful in many ways in the transition towards a
bio-economy. Even in a cool climate as in Finland, algae might be used to
produce biochemicals and biofuels, besides use in capture of industrial carbon
dioxide emissions. The ALGIDA project coordinated by VTT Technical Research
Centre of Finland explored algae growing in Finland.
Algae are not yet profitably cultivated for energy production purposes. The
cultivation is challenging especially in cool climate where there is little
daylight in winter.
Production is expensive compared with wood and agricultural biomass. But the
findings of the ALGIDA project indicate that establishing profitable algae
cultivation can also be possible in Finland.
The components of algae are suitable not only for producing biofuels but also
pigments, cosmetics components or hydrogels. Algae are also used in the
production of nutritional supplements, particularly omega-3. Algal biomass is
suitable for biofertilisers.
“The most sensible thing to do in Finland is to integrate cultivation into
industrial processes with spill heat and to integration into industrial
processes with spill heat and focus development on the production of biofuels
and biochemical compounds, and on nutrient removal from effluents. Algae can
also be used to recover nutrients, organic impurities and heavy metals from
waste and waste water,” says the project manager, Principal Scientist Mona
Arnold from VTT.
Using algae to produce biofuels requires growing conditions where the algae
produce high levels of lipids. The profitability of commercialisation depends
on trends in oil prices. Economically sustainable production requires that all
components of the algal biomass need are used. This is an internationally
active area of research, and it is worthwhile for Finland to be involved. The
aviation industry in particular is interested in the potential of algae-based
Algae need heat but manage without light
The purpose of the ALGIDA project was to explore algae growth in waste waters
in Finland and how the condition could be improved. Short daylight hours of
winter are a problem, but algae are able to adapt to variable growing
conditions. There are basically two options for a carbon source in algae
cultivation: either carbon dioxide in the air and in industrial emissions, or
organic waste. The project demonstrated the possibility of cultivating algae
by using carbon dioxide source in the summer, when light is available and
waste sugar in the winter.
Algae need warmth to grow. In the Finnish climate it makes sense to link algae
cultivation to industrial operations where residual heat is available to heat
algae cultivation ponds or reactors. Energy is also needed for harvesting and
water extraction. In the SWEET programme, VTT and Kemira collaborated to
develop chemical means for enhancing the harvesting and drying stage.
VTT is currently launching cooperation with the oil and gas company ONGC in
India and with CLEEN Ltd. (Cluster for Clean Energy and Environment in
Finland). The aim here is to demonstrate the capacity of algae in pilot scale
to bind carbon dioxide from emissions from a natural gas refinery. This will
reveal the potential of algae in a CO2 capture, best applications for algal
biomass and how well algae could be grown in industrial waste water.
VTT coordinated the project ‘Algae from waste for combined biodiesel and
biogas production’ (ALGIDA) between 2010 and 2013. VTT collaborated with the
University of Helsinki, the Finnish Environmental Institute, the HAMK
University of Applied Sciences and the Lahti University of Applied Sciences.
Research report online: /Documents/2014_T147.pdf
PHOTO 1: Growing algae at
VTT’s laboratory (photo source: VTT)
PHOTO 2: Growing algae at
VTT’s laboratory (photo source: VTT)