‘Stacked’ tubular algae reactor consisting of several connected loops.

‘Stacked’ tubular algae reactor consisting of several connected loops.

In October 2014 an unusual AlgaePARC research paper entitled Design and construction of the microalgal pilot facility AlgaePARC was published in the Journal of Algal Research. In the paper the authors describe in detail how to build and run a pilot plant, specifically the AlgaePARC pilot facility, at Wageningen University & Research centre in the Netherlands, as a manual and blueprint for current and future pilot plants.

“After building the AlgaePARC pilot facility in 2010, we have developed a unique expertise that we want to share with other groups interested in algae research,” says lead author Rouke Bosma. “In this technical article we explain choices that were made during designing and building AlgaePARC pilot facility.”

Horizontal tubular algae reactor

Horizontal tubular algae reactor

The construction and operation of an algae pilot plant is complex, said Bosma. “With this article we really want to help move this research field forward.”

Although the principles of most systems used at AlgaePARC are known from literature, the added value of this paper is the lessons learned while adapting and optimizing designs. For example, the large tubular systems could initially only be started up as a whole (fig. 1). Consequently, a lot of algae starting material (inoculum) was needed. By separating the first loop from the main system using valves, this single loop can be started up first, using substantially less inoculum. When successfully grown, the loop is connected to the main system.

Another improvement to tubular systems (Figure 1 and 2) was to remove dead corners and change sharp edged corners into smooth bends. This led to reduced energy requirements while maintaining the same liquid velocity.