Biofat project demonstrates algae’s potential for biofuels production

The Biofat project, a microalgae-to-biofuel FP7 demonstration project, has confirmed algae’s potential as a sustainable biofuel source with low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The project has concentrated on improving and demonstrating sustainability in the process, considering both environmental (e.g. use of marine strains to limit freshwater use) and economic (e.g. low energy consumption) issues.

Two 1.5 hectare pilot-scale facilities have been built for the project in Italy and Portugal, and a scaled-up 10-hectare demonstration plant is in the final stages of construction.

The plants have demonstrated how the algae-to-biofuel process will work from an economic perspective and that large-scale microalgae production platforms can be operated sustainably and economically.

Green algae have a great potential for becoming a new sustainable low-cost energy source, which has the benefit of algae being one of the fastest growing photosynthetic organisms.

Algae can double in mass every few hours and be harvested daily, which gives them the potential to produce a volume of biomass and biofuel that traditional feedstock crops cannot compete with.

Combined with algae’s high productivity, they can produce between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons per year per acre of biofuel due to their capacity to store energy in the form of oils carbohydrates.

These oils can then be converted into biodiesel and the carbohydrates fermented into bioethanol, while the remaining biomass can be compressed into pellets to produce biomass fuel for energy and heat generation.

Biofat is an EU project to research and validate alternative methods of fuel and energy production to address climate change, impact of fuel crops on food production, and land use change.

The project is one of three large-scale industry-led initiatives aimed at demonstrating the production of algal biofuels along the whole value chain, covering strain selection to algae cultivation and production, oil extraction, biofuel production, and biofuel testing in transportation applications.