Growing algae at VTT’s laboratory. Image: VTT

Growing algae at VTT’s laboratory. Image: VTT

The cultivation of algae for biofuels and other products is challenging in cool climates where there is little daylight in winter. But the findings of the ALGIDA project indicate that establishing profitable algae cultivation can be possible in the colder latitudes, such as Finland.

“The most sensible thing to do in Finland is to integrate cultivation into industrial processes with spill heat and focus development on the production of biofuels and biochemical compounds, and on nutrient removal from effluents. Algae can also be used to recover nutrients, organic impurities and heavy metals from waste and wastewater,” says the project manager, Principal Scientist Mona Arnold from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT).

The purpose of the “Algae from waste for combined biodiesel and biogas production” (ALGIDA) project was to explore algae growth in wastewaters in Finland and how the condition could be improved. Short daylight hours of winter are a problem, but algae are able to adapt to variable growing conditions. There are basically two options for a carbon source in algae cultivation: either carbon dioxide in the air and in industrial emissions, or organic waste. The ALGIDA project demonstrated the possibility of cultivating algae by using carbon dioxide sources in the summer, when light is available, and waste sugar in the winter.

Algae need warmth to grow. In the Finnish climate it makes sense to link algae cultivation to industrial operations where residual heat is available to heat algae cultivation ponds or reactors. Energy is also needed for harvesting and water extraction. In the SWEET program, VTT and Kemira collaborated to develop chemical means for enhancing the harvesting and drying stage.

VTT is currently launching a cooperation with the oil and gas company ONGC, in India, and with CLEEN Ltd. (Cluster for Clean Energy and Environment,) in Finland. Their aim is to demonstrate the capacity of algae in pilot scale to bind carbon dioxide from emissions from a natural gas refinery. This will reveal the potential of algae in a CO2 capture, best applications for algal biomass and how well algae could be grown in industrial wastewater.

VTT coordinated the ALGIDA project between 2010 and 2013. VTT collaborated with the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Environmental Institute, the HAMK University of Applied Sciences and the Lahti University of Applied Sciences.