Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is about to unveil a new biofuel technology bringing algae together with coal.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is about to unveil a new biofuel technology bringing algae together with coal.

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) is about to host the first public showcase of their Coalgae™ technology, an outgrowth of the Microalgae-to-Energy Project begun in 2009 to promote late generation biofuels in support of the National Biofuels Strategy.

NMMU has been funded under the Department of Science and Technology’s Biofuels Demonstration Programme to undertake research that would facilitate the development of algal-based biofuels. One of the focal areas of that work is the conversion of waste coal into a usable energy feedstock. The research at NMMU has shown that microalgae can be combined with carbonaceous materials, such as coal and charcoal, and act as an excellent binder for fine coal. The resulting composites, dubbed Coalgae, show outstanding mechanical and water resistance properties.

The Coalgae agglomerates may be used as-is as a substitute in any application that requires coal, or may be further processed through a variety of additional technologies, such as pyrolysis, which can be integrated into the production scheme. Low temperature pyrolysis results in a clean coal (partially devolatilised and de-sulphurised) and a bio-fossil crude oil blend that may be processed into a variety of drop-in fuels, including gasoline, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel, and heavy fuel oil.

The production of Coalgae has the advantage of eliminating the requirement for two separate process steps for the production of biofuel blends, as both the fossil fuel-based raw material (waste coal) and the renewable raw material (microalgae biomass) are processed in a single process. Other advantages include CO2 sequestration, water cleaning, and upgrading of low-grade coal.

Meet CoalgaeTM briquettes

Meet Coalgae™ briquettes

Following the development of the microalgae technologies over the past three years, a pre-feasibility engineering study was completed by HATCH Goba. The study resulted in a robust and cost-effective design for Coalgae production on a semi- and full commercial scale. Techno-economic analyses of the Coalgae process have been undertaken and indicate that, at an appropriate scale, the process is financially viable. A full feasibility study will be conducted in early 2014.

On January 27 and 28, 2014, NMMU and government officials will, for the first time, showcase and demonstrate the Coalgae technology, with an overview to be delivered by Prof. Ben Zeelie from NMMU; the engineering involved, by Dr. Jacobus Swanepoel from HATCH Goba; and preliminary techno-economic studies presented by Mr. Brian Tait from Infinergy Consulting.