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European project produces first algae crops for bioenergy

The EU-based All-gas project, the world's largest project to convert algae into clean energy using wastewater, has successfully grown its first crop of algae biomass at its site in Chiclana, southern Spain.

The project, which was launched in May 2011 and is due to last five years, aims to obtain low-cost biofuel from algae grown in wastewater. So far, the biomass created shows a high energy potential relative to its digestibility level, with a methane production capacity of around 200-300 litres of gas/kg of biomass processed by anaerobic digestion. The microalgae also allow the purification of wastewater to a high standard.

In addition to wastewater, the project also proposes to use CO2 generated in biomass boilers from residuals such as garden waste or olive pits to feed the algae, which in turn are converted into biogas. A part of the biogas is CO2 which gets separated from the biomethane and recycled.

The pilot phase of the project has already been completed and plans for the construction of the biomass plant are on schedule. A 1 hectare prototype is under construction.

It is expected that by 2016 the biofuel produced by the All-gas project will be enough to power 200 vehicles. When the project reaches its demonstration phase, the biogas produced will be used to power public buses and rubbish trucks in the region of Cadiz.

The European project is led by FCC Aqualia and comprises five other organisations: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, BDI, Feyecon y Hygear and the University of Southampton.

'This original new approach to bioenergy means that Spain's 40 million population could power 200,000 vehicles every year with a single toilet flush,' says Frank Rogalla, project coordinator and FCC Aqualia's director of innovation and technology. 'The All-gas project is going to change the face of wastewater treatment by generating a valuable energy resource from what was previously considered undesirable waste.'

Nicolas Aragon, Chiclana's environmental councillor, adds: 'This is not only an R&D project, but also a way of reducing costs and investing in the protection of our natural environment. Chiclana is a worldwide tourist destination and from now on, we will show that along with attracting visitors with our sunshine and beaches, we can also grow sustainable biofuel with our natural resources.'

The All-gas project is costing €12 million, €7.1 million of which has come from EU funding.