Innovation in algae cultivation

By Bert Lemmens, VITO, WP1 coordinator 


Algae production is the first step in the entire chain of the algae economy. Algae production systems need to guarantee good quality and be predictable, stable and cost effective. In this work package we do research to improve this by achieving cost saving, sustainability and productivity enhancement. Progress has been made in the following areas:

  • Producing a stable product is essential to market high value algae. Partner Fitoplancton Marino has proven in this project that it can deliver high quality algae to its partners on time.

  • The development of molecular monitoring methods will make it possible to identify the critical cultivation conditions needed to maximise the production of the desired component. This will pave the way for better process control, more stable quality and better profits. As a proof of concept, the species Nannochloropsis gaditana (strain B3) has been selected to study changes in the expression level of genes involved in different metabolic pathways. Microalgae samplings have been performed after inoculation in outdoor tubular photobioreactors for production throughout the growing phase and after the beginning of the semi-continuous phase. In the picture above and to serve as example, the expression level of genes encoding different fatty acid elongases is shown and reveals different regulatory mechanisms acting during fatty acid elongation. The next goal is to establish relationships between gene expression levels and bioactives/metabolites in order to find molecular markers associated with productivity. A close collaboration with our partner, Wageningen University (WU), has been programmed in this regard.



  • The development of a technology to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere will make choosing a location for an algae farm much easier. The characterization of several adsorbents has yielded good candidates for this purpose.

  • Tests on different membranes have shown that the selection of the membrane type is very algae specific. Both membrane material and pore size influence the filtration characteristics of the algae suspensions when separating them from the supernatant in the centrifugue. A selection thus must be done for a specific algae culture.

  • In medium recycling, analytics are important to achieve the correct addition of macro and micro nutrients. Tests are performed to find accurate, affordable and practical methods for use in medium recycling.

  • A novel concept for a liquid Foam Bed flat panel photobioreactor is being developed. This concept has the potential to

    • Increase cell density substantially which reduces harvesting costs.
    • Reduce construction costs due to a low pressure drop and low weight of the foam
    • Reduce CO2 costs as a higher residence time of CO2 increases the efficiency in its use

The design of the foam bed has already gone through several cycles to improve the process of foam creation, algae behaviour in the foam, foam stability and foam break-up, which are key parameters in the process. In addition, algae were selected for their ability to grow in this reactor.

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