Microalgal Technologies – Progress Towards a Circular Economy
Release Date: Each May
Lead Organisation: College of Engineering, Swansea University
Podcast discussing the potential of microalgae
Why are Microalgae Important?
Microalgae are extremely diverse, and so are their uses. They can play an important role in a multitude of fields, some of which have yet to be discovered:
Aquaculture - Microalgae constitute the main source of food used in the nutrition of aquatic organisms in captivity and also serve to maintain water quality in the tanks.
Food and Feed - Microalgae represent an important source of protein as well as essential nutrients with potential applications in human and livestock nutrition.
Waste Water Treatment - They are particularly important in the control of heavy metals in natural or industrially polluted waters as well as nitrogen and phosphorus. Microalgae are also used in the treatment of farm effluents, reducing the eutrophication of waters. In addition, due to their sensitivity to variations, they are also classified as a bio-indicator.
Crop Production - Fertilisers and bio-stimulants based on microalgae extracts have been developed in the last years, increasing the resistance of crops to stress and pests, as well as stimulating growth, volume, and quality of plant production.
High value metabolites - Microalgae allow the biosynthesis and production of a wide range of substances of commercial interest, such as vitamins, pigments, amino acids, polysaccharides, glycerol, enzymes, phenolic compounds, phospholipids essential fatty acids, or prostaglandins. Some species are used in slimming diets and wound treatments as they may have antibacterial, antifungal, antitumour and immune-regulating activities.
Biofuels - Microalgae can be used to produce a wide range of fuels such as bioethanol, biodiesel and biomethane, due to their storage of lipids or triglycerides.
Environment - Microalgae are being used in the bioabsortion of CO2 gases from combustion in different industries to reduce the pollution and improve the air quality.
Aquaculture, (heavy) industry, environment and agriculture are the main sectors in Wales where microalgae technology could be applied. For example.
Aquaculture companies can grow microalgae using wastewater produced at the fish farm to produce fish feed. The cultivation of these microalgae can also be targeted at the production of high value-added products such as pigments.
(Heavy) industry can use gases (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere for microalgae cultivation, decreasing the contamination gases in the atmosphere.
Farmers can incorporate microalgae cultivation to feed their animals with high value protein, even in the future for the bioremediation of animal waste. In addition, they can use this biomass as a biofertilizers or bio-stimulants for their crops.
The brewing or distilling industry can use the CO2 produced in their fermentation tanks to grow microalgae, creating value in their production.
Wastewatertreatment plants can incorporate microalgae in the tertiary process to recover nitrogen and phosphorus (or emerging contaminants) and avoid eutrophication on the waters.
Entrepreneurs - This course will encourage the creation of new companies to produce microalgae for different uses for example: cosmetics, medicine, air purifiers, ecological dyes for clothes, reduction of gases in ruminants, production of bio-asphalt, decoration of buildings.
The demand of personnel for microalgae cultivation has grown in recent years, but little training available and this has led to mistakes being repeated across the globe.
The course will show and explain the uses of microalgae as well as their production using the latest technologies developed in this sector. Students will be able to understand the biology of microalgae from the most basic concepts to more complex principles of microalgae production. The first units address the introduction to microalgae and how they interact with the environment to contextualize the next units. In this way, students with a limited knowledge of biology will also have a basis on which to build during the course. After the initial phase, students will develop a deeper understanding of the world of cultivation, giving them the keys to success but also pointing out the mistakes to avoid. Students will learn to identify needs and requirements of each microalgae species, and thus be able to reach their production objectives. This module will show the tools, machines, and systems in each process of cultivation focusing on the last technology available, leaving students with the opportunity to choose which one fits best with the production model they wish to develop. Finally, a visual practice of what the real world of microalgae is like will help them to put into context all that has been learnt in the theory. The module will transmit an applicable knowledge focused on the real world.