Energy Evolution: May 5, 2008
Process Uses Algae To Handle Facilities' CO2 Emissions
Centre de recherche industrielle du Quebec (CRIQ) is a key participant in a network that aims to fast-track Mother Nature's own greenhouse gas (GHG) recycling process with a system that would handle large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industry.
Scientists at the Quebec research organization are working through Innoventures Canada (I-CAN) as well as researchers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Together, they are getting closer to creating a system that would convert CO2 diverted from industrial facilities into value-added products using micro-algae.
I-CAN is a not-for-profit consortium of 10 Canadian research corporations that have joined together for key strategic projects.
The organization, which recently held its annual meetings in Quebec City, said its Carbon Algae Recycling System (CARS) project has progressed.
CARS is being developed to flow flue gas, comprising either CO2 or nitrogen oxides, directly from industry into ponds to feed the growth of micro-algae, which would then be harvested and processed into value-added products, such as ethanol, biodiesel or fertilizer.
"In essence, the goal of CARS is to fast-track Mother Nature's own process of using plants to soak up carbon from the atmosphere," said Denis Beaulieu, current chairman for I-CAN and special consultant with CRIQ.
"Algae growth research isn't new, but our goal is," he said. "Other algae projects are aimed at creating biofuels. The goal of CARS is to provide industry with a sustainable, affordable way to deal with their greenhouse gas emissions."
The base case chosen for the preliminary CARS work is sized to consume up to 30% of the GHG produced by the average 300-megawatt, coal-fired power plant.
"That's the base case and we'll work upwards to larger capacities from there," said Beaulieu.
He predicted the sale of byproducts, such as ethanol or fertilizer, from harvesting the algae would help offset the cost of operating the CARS.
Since announcing the CARS project last year, scientists from four different provinces have made headway in proving this concept could work in Canada in a cost-effective way.
"Until now, it was believed Canada's climate and light conditions wouldn't support these kinds of algae projects," said John McDougall of the Alberta Research Council (ARC) and vice-chairman of I-CAN. "We've now discovered the less intense sunlight in Canada is actually beneficial to the growth of algae and we are devising concepts of how covered pond systems could work economically in our climate."
The comprehensive research program is taking a two-pronged approach. The biological piece of this puzzle will identify a strain of algae that thrives on the specific chemical composition of flue gas, at a target temperature, given the angle of sunlight in Canada.
On the engineering side, the researchers have already determined that neither the existing photobioreactor nor the open pond algae systems would deal with large enough volumes of CO2.
I-CAN partner researchers are now developing a hybrid covered pond system that maintains the consistent environment required by the chosen strains of algae.
CRIQ's Beaulieu said national demand for such a project is mounting.
Governments are targeting industries to reduce GHG in the coming years, leaving industry scrambling for ways to cut emissions in a way that's good for the environment and their bottom line, Beaulieu said.
Participating organizations for the CARS project include: CRIQ, ARC, the Saskatchewan Research Council and Manitoba Industrial Technology Centre
The project is currently funded by Natural Resources Canada, the Alberta Energy Research Institute, Alberta Bio-fuel Fund and the Alberta Life Sciences Institute, as well as the Quebec government.
Industry partners include: The Mosaic Company, Suncor Energy Inc., EnCana Corporation, Graymont Limited, NB Power Corporation, EPCOR Utilities Inc., Petro-Canada and Shell Canada.