BIOFAT Newsletter - June 2014

View the June edition - PDF 

An Introduction to BIOFAT – BIOfuels From Algae Technologies

BIOFAT is a €10 million microalgae-to-biofuel FP7 demonstration project (Grant Agreement 268211) that integrates the entire value chain of the algae process from optimized growth, biosynthesis of starch and oil accumulation to downstream processing including biofuel production. The project started in March 2011 and will be finished by April 2015/2016. The BIOFAT approach integrates and scales up complementary technologies and skills from each partner into a global multidisciplinary project. The value chain of biofuel production from microalgae will be tested on a large scale during the project with three main targets: energy efficiency, economIc viability and environmental sustainability.

The project is being implemented in two stages: process optimization in two pilot-scale facilities, each one-half hectare in size, in Italy and Portugal; and economic modelling and scale-up to a 10-hectare demo facility.

The technologies adopted in both pilot plants are representative of the solutions that will characterize the demo facility. The two pilots will start operation in the summer of 2015 and represent a strategic added value for the following industrial phase; they will enable a full feasibility study of algae biofuels in the EU. Two marine algae species, Nannochloropsis and Tetraselmis, will be tested. The 10-hectare plant will demonstrate how generating biofuels from algae technologies will work and show that the "microalgae production platform" can operate with positive economic balance through a biorefinery process where added-value compounds are produced.

The BIOFAT consortium is characterized by a unique mix of skills that represent the state of the art in terms of knowledge and expertise in the field of microalgae production and applications, including biofuels. All partners have consolidated know-how in these fields, as they have worked in this sector for nearly two decades. The scientific and technological challenges will include:

  • Strain selection and cultivation, in accordance with environmental conditions and sustainability criteria;
  • Optimization of the culture conditions, adoption of strategies to limit contaminations and abiotic stresses, allowing high oil/starch accumulation;
  • Technology integration and optimization, combining photobioreactors (green wall panels and tubular reactors) and two types of open Raceway ponds, as well as automated harvesting; and
  • Minimizing investment and operational costs for successfully scaling up (from one-half hectare to 10 hectares) the technology from algae cultivation to biomass processing and biofuel production for competitive and sustainable algal biomass production; and development of the algo-refinery concept, which defines the value of various co-products from the algae biomass fractions.

Once the project is finished, the 10 hectare plant will be a production and biorefinery facility with proteins, omega-3 and EPA as outputs.

Progress and Next Steps

The following six steps represent the stages that have been completed and those that are being developed:

  1. Assembly of relevant knowledge and experience from the partners (finished);
  2. Development and design of detailed projects for the two pilot plants in Portugal and Italy, both close to existing facilities (finished);
  3. Project management, building and operation of the two pilot plants with related LCA evaluation (in progress);
  4. Development of conceptual project and business case (subcontracted to Accenture) for 10 hectare demonstration facility to attract investors for the facility (in progress);
  5. Design, build and operate the 10 hectare demo plant so that it is possible to have a real production-based LCA at that scale; and
  6. Transfer the 10 hectare plant and biorefinery to the Investor that financed the facility.

Steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be financed by EU FP7 contract; steps 5 and 6 will be financed by an investor that will have a special loan from the European Investment Bank through the Risk Share Financial Facility (RSFF).

The project is coordinated by A4F – Algalfuel SA (Portugal), and has the following outstanding partners: University of Florence (Italy); Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel); Fotosintetica & Microbiologica S.r.l. (Italy); Evodos (The Netherlands); Algosource Technologies (France); A&A Fratelli Parodi S.p.a. (Italy);Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías, S.A. (Spain); In S.r.l. (Italy); and Hart Energy (U.S.).

Co-authors: Diana Fonseca and Luís Costa



BIOFAT Two Years into the Running 

The project is at a turning point. During the first two years, we ran into many obstacles (especially those of a bureaucratic nature) that delayed the building of the pilot plants (in Pataias, Portugal, and Camporosso, Italy) and increased the burden of work for the partners involved with the plant builds. Luckily, these difficulties are behind us and the building of the two plants has started. The two pilot plants will most likely be operative in summer 2014, and will be of the greatest importance for biofuels research in the EU and beyond. The acquisition of data from the 0.5 hectare plants will allow us to perform energy and LCA analyses of algal biomass production based on real data. This data can be extrapolated and applied to a larger-scale facility with less approximation than can be calculated currently and reported in the available literature. The operation of two distinct pilot plants and the exchange of information between them will strengthen the results obtained.

Although the construction was delayed, other activities of the project proceeded. A great deal of information on the two strains selected for the project, Nannochloropsis oceanica F&M-M24 and Tetraselmis suecica F&M-M33, was acquired through experimentation at the prototype level; this increased our knowledge on how to orient metabolism toward accumulation of the target products (oil and carbohydrate). Other data obtained highlighted the possible obstacles at "real" scale during the different steps of the production cycle leading to starch and oil, and on the biorefinery potential of the biomass.

Protocols aimed at standardizing procedures in the two pilot plants were prepared and discussed among the involved partners to establish optimal procedures to operate in the open field. Also evaluated were in-depth procedures requiring transportation of samples to research laboratories for more sophisticated analyses.


Meet BIOFAT Experts

Algal Biomass, Biofuels & Bioproducts 
June 15-18, 2014: Santa Fe Convention Center, New Mexico, U.S.
Speaker: Prof. Sammy Bousiba, Ben Gurion University.

5th Congress of the International Society for Applied Phycology 2014
June 22-26, 2014: Sydney, Australia

Algae Biomass Summit
Sept 29 - Oct 10, 2014: San Diego, CA, U.S.

EABA Novel Food Workshop
Oct 27-28, 2014: Lisbon, Portugal

EABA Global Conference
Dec 1-3, 2014: Firenze, Italy

Visit the web site for access to presentations from these events.



Department of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences of the University of Florence (Italy) (UNIFI) and Fotosintetica & Microbiologica S.r.l. (Italy) (F&M)

During summer 2013, under the scope of Work Package (WP) 3 (Biology), UNIFI and F&M carried out experiments on Tetraselmis suecica F&M-M33, one of the two strains selected for cultivation in the BIOFAT pilot plants.

Experiments were performed outdoors in 0.5 m2 green wall panel (GWP) reactors to test nutrient starvation in parallel with a nutrient-replete control. Starved cultures were performed in both fresh and recycled media, obtaining similar productivities and carbohydrate contents. The control culture showed a significantly higher productivity but much lower carbohydrate content.

Experiments were also performed to reproduce at the prototype level the BIOFAT cultivation process (inocula in photobioreactors, culture in raceway ponds) and therefore evaluate the effect of medium recycling on algal growth. At the end of the experimental period, productivity in a recycled medium was similar to that of the control medium. We can conclude that Tetraselmis suecica F&M-M33 is able to grow and, when starved, accumulate storage product also in recycled medium. Medium recycling will be adopted in the two BIOFAT pilot plants.

For WP4 (Engineering) and WP5 (Pilot Plant), as well as proceeding with the finalization of the engineering at the Camporosso pilot plant, UNIFI and F&M contributed to the preparation of the operative manuals to be used once the pilot plant is in place. During a meeting organized by the coordinator, UNIFI, F&M and BGU in which project partners A4F, UNIFI, F&M and A&A participated, details on protocols to be used for cardinal operations were finalized.

F&M has finished building the two GWP modules of 250 m2 each, which will be deployed in Camporosso for inocula production. Dr. Silvio Mangini discussed algae and the BIOFAT project in a TV interview aired on TG3 Liguria; it can be viewed here.

Abengoa Bioenergía Nuevas Tecnologías, S.A is developing a flexible tool to be used for the calculation and quantification of the environmental impacts of the BIOFAT project for use in the life-cycle analysis.


What is BIOFAT?

BIOFAT is a microalgae-to-biofuel demonstration project that integrates the entire value chain of the algae process from optimized growth, and starch and oil accumulation, to downstream processing (biorefinery) including biofuel production.

The BIOFAT approach integrates and scales up complementary technologies and skills from each partner into a global multidisciplinary project with three objectives in mind:

  • Energy efficiency;
  • Economic viability; and
  • Environmental sustainability.

The BIOFAT project's main goals are:

  • Strain selection, in accordance with biofuel production targets, environmental conditions and sustainability criteria;
  • Fully monitored algae cultivation;
  • Optimization of the culture conditions;
  • Technology integration and optimization, combining photobioreactors (green wall panels and tubular reactors) and raceway ponds, as well as automated harvesting;
  • Minimizing investment and operational costs; and
  • Development of the algorefinery concept, valorising different co-products from the algae biomass fractions.

The work plan foresees two consecutive phases:

  1. Strain selection and process optimization in two 0.5 hectare pilot-scale facilities in Italy and Portugal; and
  2. Economic modelling, including scale-up to a 10 hectare demo facility.

The two pilots represent a strategic added value for the subsequent industrial phase, and they will enable a full feasibility study of algae biofuels in the EU.

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