29 April 2013

Neste Oil helping develop more cost-effective methods for producing algae


A new pilot plant devoted to algae production and coordinated by the University of Queensland was opened in Brisbane, Australia in April this year. Neste Oil is one of the partners behind the project, which is part of the Solar Biofuels Research Centre initiative aimed at generating new know-how on growing algae cost-effectively on a large scale. The pilot plant will compare the potential of different types of algae and cultivation methods and test the results of laboratory-scale work under real-life conditions. Led by the University of Queensland, the consortium includes the Queensland Government, Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Bielefeld University, Siemens, KBR, and Cement Australia – in addition to Neste Oil.

When grown in tubular photobioreactors, algae receive great amount of sun light that is needed in photosynthesis.

The algae grown in the open ponds and photobioreactors at the new facility could play an important part in the clean fuels of the future. Producing algae as a feedstock for biofuels cost-effectively is a major challenge facing the industry, and the new project in Brisbane is designed to help provide some of the answers needed. Research on cleaner fuels is very important for everyone’s future believes the Director of the facility, Professor Ben Hankamer.

“Development of clean fuels is one of the most urgent challenges facing our society today, and microalgae offer one of the most promising ways to do this,” says Professor Hankamer.

In the pilot plant in Brisbane, algae is grown both in tubular photobioreactors and ponds.

Synergy from combining business and academic expertise

The combination of biological and engineering innovation and expertise offered by the new cross-disciplinary facility in Brisbane is one of its major strengths in developing solutions for making clean fuel from algae that are commercially competitive and attractive to industry.

“By working alongside industry in the new Solar Biofuels Research Centre, University of Queensland scientists can take on that challenge and move the world closer to a sustainable mix of clean energy solutions,” says the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Peter Høj.

In addition to this project in Australia, Neste Oil is working with a number of other Finnish and international partners. In 2011, for example, Neste Oil launched a joint algae research program with the Marine Research Centre at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) to test the lipid production capacity of different types of algae under various growing conditions. Neste Oil is also a member of a research consortium based in the Netherlands (AlgaePARC); and has carried out its own algae field tests in Andalusia in Spain.

Algae is grown in order to produce oil containing bio mass.

Watch an interview with Professor Ben Hankamer

Read more about the research consortium

Photos: Solar Biofuels Research Centre (SBRC)