Algae pilot project underway in Chile

By Erin Voegele | November 17, 2010
Posted Dec. 8, 2010

A new algae-based biodiesel project is underway in Chile. On Dec. 3 Chile-based E-CL announced that a corporate technological consortium, Algae Fuel S.A., is pursuing a project to produce second-generation biodiesel from microalgae. The consortium was formed by E-CL, Copec, Pontifica, Universidad Catolica de Chile, Rentapack and Bioscan. According to information released by E-CL, the project is supported by the government agency InnovaChile of Corfo.

Construction on the Mejillones, Chile-based pilot facility is expected to take five years. The total cost of the plant is expected to be $6.84 million. According to E-CL, InnovaChile will contribute approximately half the funding needed for the project, up to a total of $3.25 million.

Although Biodiesel Magazine´┐Ż was unable to reach a representative of E-CL for further comment on the project, the company's website states that the pilot project will allow Algae Fuel S.A.-affiliated companies to contribute to the development of local renewable energy source while creating new opportunities for their respective business operations. The project will also lead to important carbon emission reductions.

According to E-CL the first phase of the project includes the "prospection, isolation, purification and selection of microalgae strains." This will involve collecting algae strains from the Second Region sea, analyzing those samples and identifying the strains that are most amenable to the climate conditions of the Atacama desert, which is where the algae will be cultivated. The second phase is described as including shipping the algae to a field lab in Mejillones where they will be introduced into photobioreactors that source carbon dioxide from a thermoelectric power plant. Due to the thermal radiation conditions that result from this configuration, E-CL noted that the photosynthesis process is accelerated. The algae will then be transferred from the photobioreactors to pools, where they will continue to develop and reproduce. Next, the resulting algae will be harvested, and put through chemical flocculation and centrifugation processes in order to produce an algae biomass cake material. Finally, the algae cakes will be dried in special ovens and chemically processed to produce biofuels and other products.

Information released by E-CL states that the project is currently in the algae strain production phase, and that the field lab, which includes the photobioreactors, pools, and equipment is current being constructed.

In addition to biodiesel, there is potential to create a variety of algae-based byproducts, including algae biomass flour for use in animal feed, fertilizer, and cosmetics, as well as nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industries.
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