Technological development of microalgae culturing systems using 3D printed modular units with unique geometry

Development of a small-scale, automated membrane-covered closed composting system was completed on 31 October 2020 in Gödöllő, at the registered seat of ProfiKomp® Environmental Technologies Inc. The project was implemented within the framework of the 2018-1.1.1-MKI construction.

Project title:Technological development of microalgae culturing systems using 3D printed modular units with unique geometry
Consortium members: ProfiKomp® Environmental Technologies Inc. (project leader); HDH-Engineer Ltd.
Project No: 2018-1.1.2-KFI-2018-00131
Amount of support: 485 612 824,- HUF
Period of implementation: 01.12.2018 – 30.11.2020.

Algae biotechnologies represent an innovative segment of agriculture, which is nowhere near to its available potential. Algae cultivation has many advantages over crop production, such as exploitation of infertile areas, the much faster biomass production, continuous growing time, and by the application of a closed system, a much lower demand for water and pesticides. The few micrometres sized species of algae are called microalgae. These species can even multiply their own biomass every day if the circumstances are ideal. There are very diverse options in their use. Some species, due to their excellent nutritional content, are a food ingredient or nutritional supplement in the food industry, while others can be used in agriculture as feed, soil improvers or plant growth stimulant. Many microalga species have great economic significance because certain compounds are particularly rich in them (e.g. unsaturated fats, antioxidants, pigments, etc.).

However, microalgae cultivation currently has its limits, which can led back to economic reasons. Such a limiting step in the technology is the high costs of nutrient supply and the difficulty in dewatering of biomass.

The technology we are developing is a microalgae culturing system composed of modular elements that can easily be scaled up for large-scale industrial production. During the research, such an experimental module will be designed and constructed. This unit is built from the most suitable materials for the purpose with state-of-the-art method, 3D printing technology. We can easily scaling up the cultivation to the industrial level by the simultaneous use of several of these modules at the same time. This means that we gain a marketable product by the development of our pilot photobioreactor. Our device uses passive solutions that significantly reduce the material and energy costs of the cultivation.

We research on two innovative ideas in nutrition. The first is the use of aqueous extracts made from agricultural by-products as a nutrient solution. The second is about the most important most important element to algae, the carbon.  We offer an alternative source of carbon in a two-circuit system using flue gases. In the first round, carbon dioxide is discharged from the flue gases by detergents. For this process, a specific carbon dioxide capturing device is being developed during the research. In the second round, its washing media is filled into the special alga breeding equipment to be regenerated. The regeneration is carried out by the algae, which is inoculates in small amounts into the medium and captures the carbon dioxide content of the medium during its growth. This process not only satisfies the carbon demand of algae, but also reduces considerably the emission of carbon dioxide.

The development includes research in which we are looking for an effective solution for separating alga from water. This will be accomplished by designing, 3D printing and building a sedimenting and a solar drying equipment. The innovation in this area is the development of a technology in which the efficiency of settling can be significantly increased. This can be solved with specially designed guide vanes and lamellas that reduce the flow rate. The solar drying apparatus will also have a unique design and its main purpose is to dewater the cells with minimum energy consumption while recovering the evaporated water volume as much as possible.

The significance of the research is the development of an economically viable microalgae culturing system with automated control. Carbon supply of the system would be covered by the carbon dioxide content of flue gases, and thus the technology would be an emission reduction process in one. During the research we also examine the quality of the produced microalgae biomass. The purpose of these measurements is to gather enough information about the possibilities of utilizing the product in agriculture, food or fine chemical industries.

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