Developing biofilm-based microalgal bioreactors for the efficient production of fuels, chemicals and clean water

Funding Details
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Grant type: Strategic Projects - Group
  • Years: 2014/15 to 2017/18
  • Total Funding: $472,000
Principle Investigator(s)

Project Summary

Using microalgae to convert carbon to biomass is one of the most promising technologies for developing renewable fuels. Algae produces more biomass than conventional crops such as corn and sugar beet, can be used to capture carbon and can be used in water treatment processes. Despite these advantages, biodiesel produced using current microalgal cultivation and processing technology is not economic. Our recent research has focused on the growth of algae as a biofilm as a method of reducing harvesting and downstream processing costs. However, bioreactor design, especially the uniform delivery of light throughout the reactor, remains a challenge. To address this issue we are proposing the growth of algae on a tapered waveguide, which is designed to evenly distribute light throughout the reactor. In parallel, we will incorporate a membrane onto the waveguide, to allow for diffusion of carbon dioxide through the reactor and hence utilize carbon dioxide emissions directly from source. This novel biofilm bioreactor will be tested for three specific applications of algae: 1) the production of lipids for biofuel; 2) production and isolation of a high-value products secreted by the algae in the reactor; and, 3) the extraction of heavy metals pollutants from water. With the combined advantage of uniform light distribution, and ability to diffuse carbon dioxide, this technology holds great promise in enhancing the economics of renewable fuel production by algae, as well as, providing an efficient means of carbon capture through algae.