The Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development, Neiker-Tecnalia, the public body that reports to the Sub-ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Policy of the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community, has coordinated a research project to cultivate microalgae to produce lipids for obtaining biodiesel in a more cost-effective and more environmentally sustainable way. Researchers have optimized all the phases in the production process, from cultivation right up to transformation into biodiesel. The result is a quality biodiesel that is obtained when the microalgae biomass used contains at least 30% of reserve lipids. The conclusions of the project known as Energreen have been presented at a conference run by Neiker Tecnalia and Tecnalia Research & Innovation, which has been held on the premises of the agricultural institute in Arkaute (Álava-Araba).
The Energreen project has sought to re-adapt traditional microalgae cultures to obtain microorganisms with a high energy potential. Along the development of the project, specific culturing strategies based on nutrient limitation were established and these have made possible to obtain biomass with high lipid content. Thanks to this fact, the identifying of more effective extraction and transformation systems has been possible to obtain quality biodiesel.
The culture protocol developed enables reserve-lipid enriched biomass to be obtained while an increase in carbohydrates is produced; we have obtained an energy-enriched microalgae biomass. The residual biomass generated after the extraction of oil has been evaluated for its methanogenic potential for biogas production.
An ideal source of bioenergy
Microalgae are an ideal source of bioenergy, since they do not compete with crops destined for food and could potentially produce higher yields. Neiker-Tecnalia experts have nevertheless pointed out that further progress is needed in the developments to make the microalgae production process for bioenergy purposes possible on an industrial scale.
The Energreen initiative EFA217/11 has been financed for two years and has had a budget of a million euros, 660,000 of which has been co-funded by the European Union with ERDF funding, through POCTEFA, the Spain-France-Andorra Territorial Co-operation Programme 2007-2013.