NEIKER-Tecnalia turns agri-food waste into oil through the cultivation of microalgae

9 February 2018
NEIKER-Tecnalia turns agri-food waste into oil through the cultivation of microalgae
The oil produced is of good quality and can be transformed into biodiesel that meets the standards set by the law that regulates the sale of biofuels.

The process to achieve the oil is part of the CYCLALG project, whose objective is to develop a biorefinery model around microalgae.

NEIKER-Tecnalia has developed a process for the cultivation of Chlorella microalgae that allows to obtain more than 50% of its weight in the form of oil, if it is cultivated in certain conditions. The oil generated from microalgae is notable for its high oleic and palmitic acid content and because it can be transformed into biodiesel that meets the standards set by the law that regulates the sale of biofuels.

The key to obtain this oil lies in the culture medium used for the growth of algae: it is made up of more than 80% by nutrients obtained from organic waste such as flaxseed, plum and canned corn remains or peelings from potato. Another waste used is the biomass of the algae once defatted, which is composed mostly of protein and carbohydrates. The most remarkable thing is that the use of these residues as nutrients in the culture medium has implied an increase of 30% in the productivity of the process.

The new bioeconomy strategy adopted by the European Union highlights the need to promote research on new biological resources that facilitate the diversification of existing value chains. Microalgae are an example of this type of resources. The cultivation of these microscopic vegetables allows obtaining a wide range of products of economic value, while aligning adequately with the necessary aspects of environmental sustainability.

Microalgae, raw material for obtaining bioproducts

One of the most recognized characteristics of microalgae crops is their high productivity, superior to that of any other vegetable crop. In addition, due to its richness in proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, microalgae are currently considered a high-value raw material for exploitation in different economic sectors.

Its chemical composition converts microalgae into a raw material (biomass) with high potential for the development of biorefineries (integrated production of food inputs, chemical products and fuels). Beyond its commercial potential, the cultivation of microalgae can be considered as an interesting way for the development of new waste valorization strategies very beneficial for the circular economy.

CYCLALG, a project to obtain biodiesel via microalgae cultivation

NEIKER-Tecnalia, public entity of the Department of Economic Development and Infrastructure of the Basque Government, is the coordinator of CYCLALG, an R & D & I project whose objective is to develop and validate technological processes that improve economic profitability and environmental sustainability of the process of obtaining biodiesel via microalgae culture. The project adopts the principles of the circular bioeconomy and seeks to improve the value of microalgae biomass through the efficient use of resources and the lengthening of the useful life of the waste.

The CYCLALG project is a territorial cooperation program Spain-France-Andorra within the framework of POCTEFA 2014-2020 and the following partners participate in addition to the NEIKER-Tecnalia coordinator: CENER-CIEMAT Foundation, Tecnalia Research & Innovation Foundation, Association of the Navarre Industry (AIN), Association Pour Lenvironment et la Securite in Aquitaine (APESA) and CATAR-CRITT Agroressources. The last periodic meeting of the project was held recently at the facilities of NEIKER-Tecnalia in Arkaute.

The final objective of the project is to develop a biorefinery model around microalgae, which means to exploit the biomass of microalgae in an integral way, optimizing the flows of resources, materials and energy, and giving rise to multiple commercial products. The challenge is to obtain at least five marketable products from the Chlorella microalgae: two energy products (biodiesel and methane), a concentrate rich in amino acids, a fertilizer for agricultural use and biomolecules for the cosmetic industry.