At the end of last month, the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced it was putting £4m in funding towards the Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, with 24 projects selected and up to £200,000 of funding allotted to each scheme – all with the aim of developing commercially viable biomass technologies.
We’re going to be breaking down each of the projects that received investment, so watch this space for all the updates!
As the BEIS has done, we’ll be looking at projects by the materials they’ll be investigating, and this week’s wonder-material is algae. The potential of this unassuming plant is nothing short of fascinating, with the material able to capture CO2, provide nutrients and oxygen to surrounding ecosystems, as well as provide liquid fuel, biogas, animal feed and fertiliser. Such is the potential of algae in the future of the UK’s biomass market, the BEIS channelled the majority of its funds to projects investigating the plant, with the following five schemes selected.
Yorkshire-based SeaGrown is looking to establish a seaweed farm in the North Sea, using the firm’s experience in seaweed production to mechanise offshore farming. Under the project, the team will design a prototype offshore seeding and harvesting system, which will be trialled to determine efficacy and optimise its commercial viability. Not only does the crop not need any chemicals to be cultivated, but the carbon-absorbing nature of the algae means the project is carbon neutral.
The group says that once production of the seaweed crop reaches commercial levels, it can be used in a host of industries including biodegradable plastic, cosmetics and textiles.
SEaB Power is a manufacturer of waste-to-energy technologies, with a vision of decentralising energy systems. Its anaerobic digestion units (Flexibuster and Muckbuster) use companies’ organic waste to produce energy – with the plug-and-play units having a particular focus on small to medium size sites.
The team also evaluates the viability of microalgae sequestering CO2 and producing biomass, and it was for this particular purpose that it received the BEIS funding.
Green Fuels Research: Microalgae Biomass Sustainability (MISTY)
Gloucestershire-based company Green Fuels was awarded the BEIS funding for its microalgal biomass MISTY. The scheme uses wastewater from breweries and dairy operations to access bacteria and stimulate algae growth – closing the loop for these industries’ waste while boosting algae yields.
The team uses a unique method that deploys two bioreactor systems – each one designed for different weather conditions. While one is powered by the sun, the other uses the wastewater bacteria and can operate without any natural light required. Advantages of the project noted by the BEIS include the ‘non-requirement of drinking water or arable land for biomass production’.
Impact Laboratories Limited: MiDas
The MiDas scheme is similarly looking at cultivating algae crops, both as a food source for human and animal consumption, as well as for its non-edible components used to create biopolymers. Specifically, the project is set to produce Spirulina, which has typically struggled to see widespread use in the UK due to conditions in the country not being particularly favourable. To help grow the tricksy crop, the MiDas team will use water geothermally warmed from abandoned mine sites – with the warmth making it more optimal conditions for growing Spirulina.
Phycofoods: Gold to Green to Gold
Phycofoods’ project takes whisky byproducts CO2 and anaerobic digestion digestate, and uses them to stimulate microalgal biomass production. The biomass produced is then used as a biostimulant to boost barley production, or as a feedstock for aquaculture.