26th Sep 2017

Danish project lets algae convert CO2 into protein

  • Mette Skovbjerg, head of Symbiosis Center Denmark and press officer Peer Olander Noergaard. (Photo: EUobserver)

The world is under increasing pressure to perform, with climate change and the demands of an ever-growing population putting a stranglehold on natural resources. Yet, nature may also offer some solutions.

For example, the green algae that feed on CO2 and then convert it into protein.

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  • "We are at a cross-roads with this research", says PHD student Patrick Uldall Noerregaard from DTU Aqua (Photo: EUobserver)

The latest experiment at Symbiosis Center Denmark is all about exploring the industrial potential of these micro-organisms.

"We are at a crossroads with this research", says PHD student Patrick Uldall Noerregaard from DTU Aqua, National Institute of Aquatic Resources at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

He studies the processes at the Algae Reactor in Kalundborg, a project funded by the EU's 7th Framework Programme.

The reactor looks like an oversized greenhouse from the outside and is certainly full of green stuff inside.

The algae float in bubbling CO2-infused water, encapsulated in 10-metre-tall glass panels which are kept under close scrutiny by the researchers.

"We have nick-named it the Algae Cathedral", says Peer Olander Noergaard, press officer of Symbiosis Center Denmark.

And there is certainly something awe-inspiring about the reactor hall, full of beautiful green colours in multiple shades.

The panels revolve in the sunlight, to ensure that the algae are exposed to the light in precisely the most optimal way for growth.

Temperatures are vital and are monitored by the researchers, who also keep a keen eye on the pH values, which can either accelerate or stop the entire process.

The algae plant experiments are also about purifying waste water from the nearby Novozymes biotech industry, which produces enzymes that, for instance, are used in the textile or food industries.

The algae use up CO2 in combination with the light and produce valuable biomass in the process, which can be used in the manufacture of high-value products. For instance, some algae have a high content of Omega 3 fatty acids, similar to the food that fish eat in the wild. It follows, therefore, that feeding fish with these algae give the fish a better taste when cooked.

Calculations show that a production price of 400 Danish kroner per kilo can make it a profitable business.

If the process extends into the distillation of carotenoid astaxanthin, then it is not unreasonable to assume prices in the range of €20,000 per kilo.

Astaxanthin is the pigment that naturally colours salmon, prawns and pelicans pink and is used widely in the cosmetic industry for skin care.

This article was first published in EUobserver's Regional Focus Magazine 2015


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