International technology group SCHOTT, which has been conducting research on further development of photobioreactors, or PBRs (not the cold kind that comes in a can, mind you), has introduced a new approach for industrial growing of algae – specifically, an oval glass tube designed to help microorganisms grow more quickly.
“We believe that the oval shape will distribute the light that algae need to carry out photosynthesis and grow much more evenly in PBRs,” said SCHOTT specialist Nikolaos Katsikis. “This will increase the yield.”
The tubes have a round shape at the ends, allowing them to be joined together with standard connectors – a unique feature aimed at keeping costs low. The company presented the product for the first time at the 7th annual Algae Biomass Summit, held last week in Orlando, FL.
“We have already supplied initial tubes and are keeping a close eye on the test installations,” Katsikis said, adding that how the shape of the oval tube or the installation angle affects the growth of microorganisms is of particular interest.
Katsikis also said SCHOTT was “extremely interested” in collaborating with other companies on the product.
There are thousands of different types of algae around the world, though only 100 to 200 can currently be industrially cultivated. Algae and their metabolites can serve as food, biofuels and fertilizers, as well as the ingredients of medications and cosmetics. Cultivating the microorganisms is described as “third-generation biomass” because the process doesn’t take up farmland or compete with food production.
“There are essentially two different ways to cultivate algae industrially,” explained Katsikis. “Open ponds seem to be rather inexpensive to build, but they have a number of drawbacks. The water in ponds evaporates and gets dirty over time. Foreign organisms can invade the ponds and interfere with algae production. Factors like these have a negative impact on yield.”
Bioreactors that consist of rows of glass tubes of between 5 and 30 centimeters in diameter that are connected together offer significant advantages over open ponds, according to Katsikis. “The ideal conditions for algae exist in closed systems due to the fact that the process and all of the factors can be set more precisely,” he said.
Katsikis cited other advantages of closed systems, including:
There is also the incentive to SCHOTT that genetically modified algae can only be cultivated in closed systems.
Privately held, The SCHOTT Group has about 16,000 employees and maintains manufacturing and sales units in 35 countries. Core markets include household appliances, solar power, pharmaceuticals, electronics, optics, transportation and architecture. The company generated worldwide revenue of $2.6 billion for its 2011/2012 fiscal year.
READ MORE: “Algae arms race,” Sustainable Industries, March 2007