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KIT-Microalgae Platform

 

KIT-Microalgae Platform is a close collaboration of KIT Institutes, aiming at technology development for a sustainable production, recovery and utilization of microalgal biomass and products. The platform merges a broad portfolio of expertizes from various disciplines, ranging from Microbiology, Bioprocess Engineering, photo-bioreactor development, thermal biomass conversion to downstream process development on large scale and socio-ecomonic assessment and evaluation. The platform identifies new application- and market-oriented approaches for microalgae valorization and implements new concepts in joint projects.

Platform efforts targeting on energetic utilization of microalgae biomass are supported by the Helmholtz-Program „Renewable Energies“. Current R&D focus is laid on

  • improving economic and energetic efficiency of microalgae cultivation in closed systems, i.e. photo-bioreactors,
  • energy-efficient recovery and utilization of multiple fractions of microalgae biomass by pulsed electric field treatment,
  • identification and verification of alternative energetic valorization pathways of microalgae biomass and microalgae biomass fractions, e.g. by hydrothermal conversion and anaerobic digestion,
  • nutrient recycling ,
  • techno-economic assessment and evaluation of new processing routes.

 

 

The scientific emphasis of the Bioprocess Engineering Department of the Institute of Process Engineering in Life Sciences lays on the development of integrated and highly controllable bioprocesses. Technical methods primarily focus on fermentation, cultivation of photoautotrophic microorganism and novel harvesting and separation techniques for solid/liquid separation. Process optimization is supported by mathematical modelling, based on measured reaction kinetics data of extra- and intracellular components. R&D in photobiotechnology targets at process optimization for economic biomaterials production, at production, harvesting and purification of complex composite materials and at development of novel photobioreactors, maximizing light energy utilization for high microalgae cultivation efficiency.

The Bioelectrics Group at the Institute for Pulsed Power and Microwave Technology applies pulsed electric field (PEF) treatment for energy-efficient cascade processing of microalgae biomass. Besides basic research on membrane permeabilization mechanisms, the group targets on development of Pulsed Power devices for biomass treatment at industrial scale. In particular, R&D efforts concentrate on exploiting the fractionating properties of PEF-processing, allowing subsequent recovery of several product groups, i.e. nutrients, proteins and lipids. From the engineering point-of-view special emphasis is laid on large mass-flow processing, process integration and high pulsed-power component reliability and lifetime.

The research area Sustainability and Environment of the Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis investigates scientific and technological developments with a focus on their impacts and possible systemic and unintended effects. It produces analytical knowledge and assessments for sustainable development in order to provide research-based advice for ministries, authorities, and parliaments with an emphasis on parliamentary policy advice. ITAS has long lasting experience in sustainability assessment and Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Costing and is involved in different projects on microalgae at the regional, national and European scale.

The department of Molecular Cell Biology of the Botanical Institute explores the molecular, cellular, and physiological responses of plants to stress, and also addresses the question, how a deeper understanding of these molecular and cellular mechanisms can improve the biotechnological exploitation of plant cells. The signaling pathways activated by electric pulses are analysed in the context of these stress responses. This leads to interesting questions for fundamental research, such as the role of the cytoskeleton for the perception of cell integrity. However, this knowledge is also important to generate hypothesis-driven applications to stimulate product synthesis and biomass accumulation in microalgae by targeted manipulation.

The working group of Platform Chemicals and Materials from Biomass at the Institute of Catalysis Research and Technology focuses on hydrothermal conversion methods of biomass, i.e. the conversion of biomass in presence of water under high pressure and temperature. This is of advantage for wet biomass, and therefore perfect for microalgae. The hydrothermal liquefaction of microalgae (HTL) yields about 60 wt% of biocrude under subcritical conditions.