MacroBioCrude: Developing an Integrated Supply and Processing Pipeline for the Sustained Production of Ensiled Macroalgae-derived Hydrocarbon Fuels

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: IBERS

Abstract

Research challenge: Identify and demonstrate a robust and economic route for sustainably manufacturing drop-in replacement transport fuels (to use as diesel and aviation kerosene). Using innovative sources of sustainable biomass ensures continuity of fuel supply past peak oil and meets increasing fuel demands. Current 1st-generation technologies have reached the limits of available biomass feedstocks without compromising food supply/security. Seaweed (macroalgae) is a viable alternative source, but its use requires investigation, development and commercialization to provide a non-seasonal supply chain, to tackle its high water content and provide chemical processes for converting to transport fuels.

Timeliness/UK Importance: The EU and UK government have set strict targets on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation requires incorporation of 10% renewables into the supply chain by 2020. Such targets, coupled with increasing demand for dwindling oil reserves, especially for aviation and goods vehicles, make it vital in the short-/medium-term to develop a sustainable supply of diverse renewable feedstocks (current UK transport fuels use=54000 M litres pa: aviation fuel=24%, diesel=39%; 2% growth pa). Establishing routes to produce environmentally and economically sustainable transport fuels will have a direct (chemicals, fuels sectors) and an indirect (transport, manufactured goods' distribution) impact on ensuring the future of UK manufacturing industries.

Project aims: To develop and evaluate an integrated supply and processing strategy for sustained production of ensiled MA-derived fuel-spec. hydrocarbons.

Innovative Solution: For the first time conventional grassland ensilage methods will be used to reliably preserve MA biomass for >12 months. This MA silage will then be used as an intermediate energy carrier for production of syngas/bio-crude oil. Both hypotheses are entirely new and work of this type has not been conducted anywhere outside of the studies made by Durham/CPI/Silage Solutions. Significantly, dewatering and demineralisation are inherent features of ensiling, two factors crucial in facilitating post-gasification catalytic upgrading. The work will result in a significant step-change in the production pipeline of natural stock/cultivated MA, enabling systems integration by providing a sustained source of MA biomass of consistent chemical composition as a commodity feedstock for fuel production. Ultimately, this project will assist take-off of a large bio-fuels industry that avoids food/fuel competition for land use, does not require fresh water and makes MA biomass an affordable, preferred addition to land-based energy crops.
 
Description One of the major drawbacks in the use of macroalgae as a feedstock for biorefining is its deterioration in quality post-harvest. To overcome this, the process of ensiling, similar to that used to preserve grass was investigated. To ensure good ensiling, the water content of the algae needs to be reduced. In this project, the effects of pre-treatment on the de-watering of macroalgae prior to stabilisation of the biomass by ensiling, was investigated. A number of macroalgae species that grow well around the UK coastline were collected from a range of different environments over the growing season and subjected to a range of pre-treatments. Initial results showed that, of the selection of acid and osmotic treatments for the de-watering of macroalgae, only air drying gives significant water release. Although some acid treatments resulted in removal of water, the resulting liquid also contains dissolved solids, so that in terms of the percentage dry matter, there is no change.
Generally, the response to de-watering treatment was shown to be more species dependent than season dependent. Fresh Palmaria, for example, was amenable to a screw pressing pre-treatment as a de-watering process, producing a useful juice for biorefining. Further studies have shown that de-watering was highly dependent on specific interactions with both treatment and season of collection, indicating that de-watering pre-treatments need to be specific for the type of seaweed to be processed, important knowledge for the future use of this sustainable biomass resource. Following optimised de-water treatment for each of the seaweeds, the material was ensiled to maintain stability. Data showed that in all cases, a good ensiling occurred, stabilising the biomass.
Material (torrifieid seaweed char) produced by other consortium partners was assessed for its effect on seed germination and plant growth. A series of experiments were set up using 2 indicator species, lettuce and perennial ryegrass. Germination and early growth were examined in detail under controlled environment conditions with 18 different chars while longer term growth subsequent to germination was studied with trays (mini-swards) in a glasshouse. Results demonstrated a deleterious effect on both seed germination and plant growth. This is an important outcome as it has been assumed that all chars have a beneficial effect on plant growth.
Exploitation Route Findings will enable the effective use of macroalgae as a feedstock for biorefining by addressing problems with rapid deterioration post harvest using de-watering and ensiling treatments. This is of interest to coastal communities looking to add value to available resources and also to companies interested in biorefining to extract valuable components or companies interested in anaerobic digestion or thermal conversion for power and heat.
Sectors Chemicals,Creative Economy,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description Exploration of a novel, rapid processing method to release unusual sugars from nuisance green seaweed
Amount £2,100 (GBP)
Organisation Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Problem green seaweed growth rate trial and biochar plant trial
Amount £2,800 (GBP)
Organisation The Fishmongers Company 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2020 
End 12/2020
 
Description SeaK: Seasonal and developmental composition analysis of Kappaphycus and Eucheuma spp. to inform on quality and alternative algal uses
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Aberystwyth University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 06/2021
 
Description AIEC opening 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Opening of AU new Biorefining centre. Presentations were made on current biorefining projects along with equipment available to academics and industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Blue biotechnology workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Ran a workshop on blue biotechnology at the Irish sea maritime forum annual event which analysed area with forum attendees through SWOT analysis following introduction to the area and descriptions of case studies provided by self.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.irishseamaritimeforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Blue-Growth-Project-Prospectus-Jan-2...
 
Description Chair and presentation at International conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Chaired and presented a mini-symposium: Anaerobic digestion of seaweeds at the 23rd International Seaweed Symposium, Jeju, S. Korea April - May 2019. Whilst there also judged a student presentation session.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://iss2019.org
 
Description Chief Scientific Officer for Wales Julie Williams 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation of research in biorefining and discussions regarding future direction of science in Wales
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description IBERS Centenary Celebrations 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Celebration of IBERS 100 years in plant breeding. Presentations given on biorefining projects and available equipment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Newtown rotary Club Visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presented current and post research in the area of biorefining.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Pembrokeshire coastal forum meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Discussions to drive sea-based research and resources
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Taiwan Ambassador visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation on current research activities and opportunity to collaboration and/or student exchanges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Visit by Jane Hutt to Beacon 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Visit by Jane Hutt (Wales Finance Minister) to the Beacon facility to view the work being done in the area of Industrial Biotechnology and its contribution to the Welsh Economy.

Improved ministerial awareness of the role of the bioeconomy in Wales.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Visit from UTM 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Return Visit by UTM team for further discussion on potential collaborative research and studentships etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Visit to Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Major discussions with Staff at both of the UTM campuses on areas of collaboration in Industrial biotechnology, bio-circular economy, engagement with Business, possible studentships and available equipment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Wales Festival of Innovation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation on biorefining capability and discussion of relevant projects undertaken by our research group with members of the public, students and farming community to inform on potential opportunities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017