Dutch Northern provinces could become the centre of algae production and technology. Algae contain proteins, fats and carbohydrates. For their growth they just need heat, carbon dioxide, and minerals from waste streams. Optimists claim that up to 20% of Dutch energy requirements could be met by algae. Research inspires business plans and vice versa.
An important line of investigation
Algae are an important line of investigation at Wetsus Top Institute for sustainable water research in Leeuwarden (the Netherlands). Participating companies pay for research, and develop results into viable projects. Anthony Verschoor, an industrial algae producer at Ingepro in Borculo, coordinates the algae theme, and coaches the PhD students.
Partly on the basis of Wetsus knowledge, he developed the Ingepro Algae Bio Reactor (ABR) for effluent polishing. In this device, algae are enclosed in gel particles, where they very efficiently absorb nutrients from the effluent water, producing valuable biomass. As yet, in almost every respect algae technology is in a development phase: production technology itself, and biomass extraction and treatment, including harvesting and component separation (biorefinery).
Anthony Verschoor’s Ingepro also produces algae for AkzoNobel’s breeding pond in Delfzijl. Essent supplies carbon dioxide from its power plant, and intends to use algae oil as an extra fuel. According to Hans Feenstra, AkzoNobel’s algae coordinator, his company intends to use unsaturated fatty acids from algae for new biocoatings production, in particular for new bioalkyd paints. ‘We have high ambitions,’ says he, ‘coatings are performance products. We focus on a higher added value, and expect results within four years.’
Algae Food & Fuel, a BioSoil and Tendris joint venture, constructed its Hallum algae production unit in 2008. It produces fodder, and salt-licks containing vitamins and minerals. A comparable product is the ‘algae sweet’ for horses and chickens. The next phase is constructed at Acrres, a Wageningen UR and Eneco pilot farm in Lelystad.
The first big commercial algae project
AquaPhyto’s Robert Baard has been investigating algae for 15 years. His company is a University of Amsterdam spin-off. At Schiphol Airport, AquaPhyto owns an algae production unit for waste water treatment. Plans are to scale up this project to 5 hectares, at 40 tons of biomass (dry weight) per hectare per year. Robert Baard: ‘This will be the first big commercial European algae project. One of our investors is Teijin, who are interested in pharmaceuticals production from algae for the Asian market. Together with NOM development agency we investigate the prospects for a large-scale production unit at Harlingen. We do not intend to produce biodiesel (too low quality), but fodder, and feed for shellfish. We will use all kinds of waste streams as a feedstock, including offal.’
Finally, some companies have developed plans to construct huge production units in the Eemshaven area for energy purposes (biodiesel). Feedstock is at hand in large quantities (waste heat, carbon dioxide, waste water). Areas involved could be very large. As yet, these plans are vague and not well-defined. For the time being, innovative SME’s take the lead. They have many opportunities in the Northern part of the Netherlands.
Courtesy NOM, development agency for the Dutch Northern provinces