Solar Biofuels Research Centre (SBRC) – Research platform for algae bioreactors in Australia
The growing demand of petrochemical raw materials has an increasing effect on the global climate and economy so that industry and research has to develop novel solutions. Microalgae with their photosynthetic efficiency and their ability for carbon dioxide fixation are interested as a climate neutral energy source. Besides they are regarded as a supplier of several organic high value products, e.g. pigments or fatty acids. Although several industrial applications for microalgae products are established, the commercial exploitation for biofuels and low value products are still delayed by the energy balance and process costs.
In an international and interdisciplinary consortium of academic and industrial partners the Solar Biofuels Research Centre (SBRC, www.solarbiofuels.org/sbrc/) was established to improve the potential of the photobiotechnology. Microalgae simultaneously are cultivated in open and closed reactor systems, like open ponds, flat-panels and tubular bioreactors, as well as our own reactors designs. This concept of a parallel operation allows for direct comparison of the different designs under same outdoor conditions. The pilot plant provides furthermore elaborate on-line and off-line analytics to benchmark the reactors with focus on productivity, kinetics and ecological efficiency. Important aspects of our work include the optimization of light distribution and productivity as well as the minimization of energy input, e.g. for cooling or pumping. In addition, the location Brisbane with its sun rich and subtropical climate and the plant structure creates conditions that are close to industrial production facilities. Moreover, newly screened local microalgae strains with more tolerant properties, e.g. of high temperature and sun irradiation, are tested to increase the product yields and to make the process more economical. The collected data and experience of the direct comparison of the design and process parameters contribute to process control optimization and development of optimized bioreactor designs.
In summary, the main target is the development of sustainable high efficiency microalgae production systems for fuel, food and high value products. Thereby the support of new potential partners is always welcome to improve the possibilities and efficiency of this singular project.