The
three-year project, which was announced by ISTC last month, aims to demonstrate
that producing algae for commodity animal feeds can be cost-effective and
has added environmental benefits.

Algae
have been used for decades in the niche markets of health and beauty. A more
recent focus is its ability to use CO2 from coal-fired power plants to make biofuels and
protein-rich food products.

Algae
is fast-growing compared with traditional terrestrial feed crops, so it’s an
attractive alternative for use in taking up CO2 from power plants because it requires less land, according
to ISTC principal investigator Lance Schideman. Researchers will use the Spirulina because it is
already FDA approved for use as a food ingredient and has a high protein
content, which commands higher prices.

The
algae cultivation system will be integrated with the City Water, Light and
Power plant in Springfield, Illinois. Schideman is collaborating with
University of Illinois researchers Joshua McCann and Carl Parsons, who will
conduct the animal feed studies. Global Algae Innovations will provide the
algae biomass production system to be demonstrated at field scale for this
project. The project is co-funded by the US Department of Energy National
Energy Technology Laboratory.

In
the past, ISTC scientists have researched wastewater algae systems that are now
used at 10 full-scale operating wastewater plants. They’ve also been a leader
in recycling the byproducts of hydrothermal biofuel production to enhance algal
biomass productivity. Global Algae Innovations is a leading designer and
equipment supplier in the algae industry that has developed and demonstrated
cost-effective, large-scale algae production systems.

“We’re
putting all the pieces together in a coordinated fashion and lowering the net
costs of growing algae using industrial and municipal by-products as inputs to
improve the economic environmental sustainability of algal carbon capture,” said
Schideman in a press release issued by ISTC.

This
approach reduces pollution and replaces the costly CO2 and nutrient inputs
used in most algae cultivation systems. In the current commercial technology,
managers buy liquid CO2 and various commercial
fertilisers for the nutrient supply.

The
wastewater, which is full of organic nutrients that support algae growth, will
come from a local treatment plant.

“Using
wastewater is a cost saving in the production process and it helps to solve
problems that wastewater treatment plants are experiencing in trying to
minimise nutrient discharges in the environment,” Schideman said. “In Illinois,
the treatment plants are under increasing scrutiny, and regulations that are
now voluntary are expected to become more stringent and potentially mandatory
within the next decade.”

Ultimately,
the system will produce feed especially for cattle and chickens. The product
will be dry, which helps reduce spoilage, and will have a high nutritional
value compared with some other feeds.

The
typical price range for most bulk animal feed ingredients is $150–350 per ton,
and certain high-value products can have a market value of $1,000–$2,000 per
ton. Algae has the potential to command prices near the top of the range since
some species contain highly nutritional components such as antioxidants and
poly-unsaturated fatty acids. However, algal animal feeds are not yet
established in the market, and the value of these products must be demonstrated
through research studies like this one.

Schideman
notes that the size of the animal feeds market is quite large and is a good
match with the amount of CO2 produced by power
plants around the country. Thus, using CO2 from flue gas in algae production has the potential to
significantly reduce greenhouse gases.

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