Growing sustainable biogas in Europe with microalgae
Large-scale biogas production from microscopic organisms is challenging, particularly as living systems can become unstable and die off. The EU‑funded PRODIGIO project seeks tools to predict these breakdowns.
Microalgae have been considered a promising source of biogas energy for over 60 years. Developing this technology further could help alleviate some of Europe’s energy dependence on foreign fuels and help to create a greener future.
Large-scale microalgae production is challenging, as these systems are composed of very diverse microbial communities. Anaerobic digestion is a natural biomass degradation process also carried out by microbe communities. Both of these processes are susceptible to failure.
“Combining microalgae production with anaerobic digestion provides a truly sustainable source of renewable biogas for the future but, as with microalgae production, biogas conversion yields are far from optimal,” explains Pedro Cermeño, senior researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Spain, and PRODIGIO project coordinator.
Through the EU‑funded PRODIGIO project, a consortium of researchers are aiming to set up a scientific knowledge base for the development of a system failure prediction technology. This will help improve the performance of both microalgae biomass production and biomass to biogas conversion systems.
“Anticipating the collapse of ecological systems is crucial for the timely implementation of preventive and mitigation measures that ensure bioprocess stability over time,” adds Cermeño. “The knowledge gained in PRODIGIO is allowing us to develop early warning signals, thus improving our ability to predict when systems are approaching a tipping point.”
PRODIGIO consists of two lines of research: on photobioreactors for microalgae biomass production, and anaerobic reactors for conversion of biomass into biogas. Experiments so far have succeeded in inducing the collapse of microalgal cultures and anaerobic communities, and are allowing the team to explore the mechanisms underlying system failure.
“The scientific knowledge derived from PRODIGIO will increase the performance of bioreactors, both for the production of microalgae biomass and for the conversion of biomass into biogas,” says Cermeño. “This new knowledge, once converted into technology, is expected to move the entire production chain from microalgae to biogas efficiently towards its theoretical maximum.”
“The scientific knowledge derived from PRODIGIO will increase the performance of bioreactors, and the entire production chain from microalgae to biogas.”
Pedro Cermeño, PRODIGIO project coordinator