05/03/2012

Green miracle: from toilet to tank - sustainable bioenergy from wastewater

• aqualia launch a commercial-scale, EU-backed €12 million algal biofuel demonstration project, ‘All-Gas’, using a new revolutionary process to produce sustainable bioenergy.

• Fast-growing, low cost algae will be cultivated at waste water treatment plants, overcoming the controversial issues with 1st generation biofuels.

• Additional benefits are the cleaning of waste water through nutrient recycling and the generation of valuable by-products.

Green miracle: from toilet to tank - sustainable bioenergy from wastewater

London, 5 March 2012A new EU-backed algal biofuel demonstration project, All-Gas, has officially kicked-off at a waste water treatment plant in Cadiz, Spain, with the construction of the first algal/algae culture ponds. The €12 million, 5 year project, co-financed by the EU FP7 program, is being co-ordinated by leading global water management company aqualia. Together with 6 EU partners, aqualia will demonstrate a new revolutionary way forward, in using residual nutrients in waste water as a resource for cultivating sustainable, low-cost and fast-growing algae. Biofuel production will be demonstrated on an industrial scale, amounting to 10-hectares (roughly 10 rugby pitches). The bioenergy outputs are significant - to run 400 fleet vehicles from the combined biodiesel and biomethane outputs, if target productivity of the cultures are reached - 3,000 kg of dry algae per day - with expected oil content of about 20%. In addition, the innovative technology, which includes new patents, avoids controversial issues of 1st generation biofuels – on the contrary, the technology helps clean up the environment with simultaneous waste water treatment.

The All-Gas project will demonstrate the full value process chain, as well as, enhancing efficiencies, in cultivating fast-growing micro-algae with simultaneous waste water nutrient removal, harvesting and processing biomass for oil and other chemical extractions. Included, at the 10-hectare commercial scale, is the downstream algal biofuel production and use for transportation in up to 400 fleet vehicles.

EU-funding and support

The project has attracted €7 million funding through the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program for energy-related projects, geared at Europe’s target in 2020 that 20% of energy should be produced from renewable fuels as part of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - with 10% of biofuels requiring to be met through transport activities (EU Directive 2009/28/EC). Skyrocketing oil prices, depleting fossil fuels, and energy-security issues are further igniting an interest in alternative energy sources.

As Project Officer, Dr. Kyriakis Maniatis highlights, “to help meet the EU’s ambitious renewable energy targets, we are supporting innovative approaches, and algae biofuels are one of the most exciting prospects – the All-Gas project was selected among 20 proposals we received for that topic”.

Bioenergy potential

The technology opportunity is significant, as Frank Rogalla, of aqualia, the project leader, states. “We are turning an expensive environmental problem into a sustainable bioenergy source. The opportunity is such, that 60 million people - roughly translated as the size of the UK population – would be able to power 1 million vehicles from just flushing their toilet!”.

If the target productivity of 3,000 kg of dry algae – is reached, with oil content of 20%, enough biodiesel to run about 200 cars could be generated. The bio-methane production from the anaerobic digestion of raw waste water and biomass residues should yield an equivalent amount of bio-methane for another 200 cars. 

Other benefits

The technology also delivers a number of other benefits:
• The removal of nitrogen and phosphorous from waste water, acts to minimize pollutant levels in compliance with stringent discharge requirements (EU Directive 91/271/EC) and to reduce waste generation costs;
• Recycling these resources cuts the need for polluting petrochemical based fertilizers;
• The energy harvested from waste water, and its residues, avoids the need for electrical energy, necessary for the standard waste water treatment process, and reduces the related carbon emissions;
• Algae have many advantages over 1st generation biofuel crops, such as oil palm, sugar cane and canola which have been mired in controversy, as they allow higher yields, faster growth, lower requirements for land and lessen competition with food production for land and water resources;
• Additional by-products such as fertilizer, biochemicals (colorants, proteins, enzymes etc.) and feedstocks – without depleting other food sources, also result from the process.

The process: from waste water to biofuel

The technology works very similarly to conventional waste water treatment plants (WWTP), where pollution is being extracted from waste water and converted into biomass, with energy input through electricity for aeration. In opposition to traditional technology, in the new process, energy for the algae biomass growth will come from sunlight and the produced biomass can be harvested for subsequent value transformation into biofuels. After anaerobic pre-treatment to maximize biogas production and gain CO2, the wastewater is then further purified by the growth of algal biomass. Harvested algae will be processed for the extraction of oils and other valuable by-products, while the remaining algal biomass is transformed into biomethane, CO2 and minerals, together with other residual biomass from waste water and/or agriculture.

In the UK, the University of Southampton is very much at the forefront of pushing the boundaries on the scientific understanding of algal fuel production, as Prof Charles Bank, Head of Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Southampton highlights:

“To increase the levels of transport biofuels from around 2.4% in 2009 to 10% by 2020, in line with the EU Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC, there is more urgency for the UK to find sustainable biofuels for the future. The UK green economy has a significant part to play in these projects with our specific knowledge on bioprocesses that can turn waste biomass into biofuel, for instance, we have shown that algae ponds and farm digestion can create an integrated system to foster bioenergy production”.

Background on the EU’s 7th Framework Program (FP7)

The 5 year FP7 All-Gas project is co-funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program to a sum of €7 million, and was one of 3 demonstration projects selected from proposals on the ‘Energy.2010.3.4.1:biofuels from algae’ topic area, in March 2010. Demonstration projects were required to develop biofuels production from algae, with a minimum plantation area of 10-hectares, and a minimum productivity of 90t dry solid (DS)/ha/yr. In addition, a restriction was to grow algal biomass without supplementation of carbon from fossil fuel sources, so as not to affect the definitions of biofuel, and instead the All-Gas project uses CO2 from biogas and agricultural residuals.

Background on the All-Gas project

The All-Gas poject is led by a consortium of 7 European partners, with Aqualia, the third-largest private water company in the world, co-ordinating the project. The other 6 partners are SMEs such as The Feyecon Group, MTD and Hygear, as well as engineering company BDI – BioEnergy International, and research organisations such as The Fraunhofer Umsicht Institute and The University of Southampton.

Aqualia whom are co-ordinating the project, see the technology as being relatively easily transferred to other hot-climate regions. As Miguel Jurado, aqualia´s VP for international development highlights, “as a €12 billion global infrastructure and environmental services company, we are the forefront of supporting this cutting-edge technology, with the potential to roll-out the technology, to the other 17 countries, such as Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, which we operate in. Through innovation and endeavour, our vision is to spread the benefits of the technology, and to play our part in contributing to the green economy, and importantly, a sustainable planet”.

The project will be implemented in 2 stages at the Cadiz waste water treatment plant in Spain, starting with a prototype facility to gather the main design parameters for the full-scale plant during the first 2 years. Once the viability and sustainability of the concept has been verified in full-scale ponds, 10 hectares will be developed and operated during the following 3 years. The final report will be published in 2016.

 

ENDS

 

Notes for Editors

About the project partners
Aqualia is the consortium leader, and leads the pan European consortium of the All-Gas project, consisting of 7 partners, and supported by a scientific advisory board to provide the knowledge and experience for this challenging endeavour.
• The 6 partners are: SMEs, such as, The Feyecon Group, MTD and Hygear; Engineering company BDI – BioEnergy International; and research organisations, such as, The University of Southampton and The Fraunhofer Umsicht Institute.
Aqualia, is the 3rd largest private water company in the world, and supplies water and wastewater services to close to 30 million people in 17 countries. It is part of the FCC Group – a global infrastructure and environmental services company with international revenues of €12 billion. Aqualia has a backlog of €13 billion in stable, non-cyclical projects, 30% of which are from contracts outside Spain. Recent project wins include Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.
The Feyecon Group, with subsidiaries CleanAlgae and AlgaeBiotech, specializes in high rate extraction and separation of biomass. The company also developed the LEF patent to increase raceway pond productivity (Netherlands).
MTD, has its own algae ponds and 10 years’ experience in biodiesel engineering (Turkey).
BDI – BioEnergy International, a leading supplier of process engineering to transform residual oils into biofuels that has built more than 20 biodiesel plants across Europe (Austria).
Hygear, specialize in gas handling and purification processes and engineering (Netherlands).
The University of Southampton, which has led large EU projects on the digestion of residuals and biomass to energy pathways, as well as, wastewater purification with algae ponds (UK).
The Fraunhofer Umsicht Institute, which has carried out bioenergy research for more than seven years, developing catalysts and life cycle analysis of renewable resources (Germany).
About the EU Commission’s 7th Framework Program (FP7)
• The 7th Framework Programme (FP7) All-Gas project is co-funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program to the sum of €7 million.
• The 7th Framework Programme (FP7) for research and technological development provides the structure for reaching the EU goals of growth, competitiveness and employment, with a €51 billion budget for the 7-year period, of which 5% is earmarked for energy-related projects. In Summer 2009, the EU issued calls for demonstration projects that put particular emphasis on biofuel production from lignocellulosic biomass and addressed the complete value chains from raw resources to a final marketable biofuel. The 2010 call for projects on Algae to Biofuels was aimed at large-scale demonstration of biofuels production from algae with ambitious, but achievable targets with a minimum plantation area of 10ha and minimum productivity of 90t dry solid (DS)/ha/yr.
About the All-Gas project
• All-Gas means algae in Spanish and biogas is the main biofuel expected.
• Project value is 12 million euro, with €7 million from the EU
• Alga (or its plural, algae) are fast-growing, simple plant organisms that have very high oil yields and take up CO2, their massive cultivation would allow dramatic greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction.
• In 2009, around 2.4% of the UK’s surface transport energy was obtained from biofuels (source: DECC, 2010, Digest of UK Energy Statistics).
• The diagram below shows the waste water to biofuel process. 
 

 
About the speakers
European Commission Algae Cluster Representative Denise Green
Add 1-2 sentence biography, email? Telephone? Linkedin profile?
All-Gas' project leader - Frank Rogalla, aqualia Director of Innovation and Technolog
• Frank Rogalla
is Director of Innovation and Technology of aqualia in Madrid, Spain.Previously he was Global Process Leader for a large engineering contractor in Energy and Environment, based in London, UK, and developing innovative projects in the US, Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
aqualia Vice President Miguel Jurado
• who has led international revenues from zero to about €250m in five years as well as the company's international expansion to 17 countries
Add 1-2 sentence biography
Charles Banks from the University of Southampton
a leading expert on sustainable waste management and biofuel production.
Add 1-2 sentence biography

 

For more information

For more about the All-Gas project, link to website?
For more information on the EU Commission 7th Framework Program, see

For photos, interviews and quotes:
Maria Ramos
UK Director
DoubleIC, SL
UK: + 44 (0) 75 2222 3314
maria.ramos@doubleic.com

 

BIOGRAPHIES OF SPEAKERS

Frank Rogalla is Director of Innovation and Technology of aqualia in Madrid, Spain.
Previously he was Global Process Leader for a large engineering contractor in Energy and Environment, based in London, UK, and developing innovative projects in the US, Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
After his studies of Environmental Engineering in Germany he obtained an MSc degree as a Fulbright student in the US, and worked for almost ten years at the Research Center of Veolia near Paris. Later he was stationed in New York and Brazil, working on technology transfer and large infrastructure projects.
His specialty is advanced water and wastewater technology, where he holds a handful of patents and was instrumental in bringing a few treatment systems to full scale for the first time. The consortium he compiled and is leading, ‘All-Gas’, started in 2011 one of the large projects of the EU to demonstrate ´Algae to Biofuel´ implementation on a scale of 10 hectares.

 

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