The standard production processes of bioenergy sources can be greatly simplified using a new procedure. Scientists from Leipzig, Bremen and Karlsruhe are researching the biological and technical requirements for it. February 6, 2012

 

Leipzig biologists in a small laboratory reactor look for ways to maximize the amount of glycolate obtained from algae. This preliminary stage of sugar will eventually be processed into biomethane. Photo: Stefan Schroeter

The Institute for Biology at Leipzig University has developed a new procedure using algae to obtain a low-molecular-weight carbon compound. This glycolate, a preliminary stage of sugar, can then be further processed in two subsequent stages into a mixed gas of methane and carbon-dioxide. The CO2 is ultimately separated and fed back to the algae in a cyclical process. What remains is biomethane in natural-gas quality which is either supplied to the gas grid or compressed in the gas tanks of vehicles.

This procedure can greatly shorten the standard production process of bioenergy sources, notes Christian Wilhelm, director of the Plant Physiology Department in Leipzig. “A plant needs several thousand steps for carbon conversion, from photosynthesis to harvest,” the scientist explains. In the case of algae methane, though, only 13 steps are needed from photosynthesis to final product.

An interdisciplinary research project with three other institutes has been underway since 2011 to develop the new procedure. The project is being supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with 1.5 million euros through the year 2014. Wilhelm is project coordinator and his department is responsible for developing suitable algae and biological carrier materials.

The Saxon Institute for Applied Biotechnology, likewise based in Leipzig, is working on the gas-production processes. The Institute for Environmental Process Engineering at Bremen University is researching the membranes for the glycolate and derivative gas mixture to pass through to the next processing stages in a future bioreactor. And the Bioprocess Engineering division of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is developing a concept for a bioreactor, combining glycolate production and two other process stages for the creation of the methane-CO2 mixture.


A more detailed version of this article is available in German.

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A more detailed version of this article is available in German. To order an English translation, please use the contact form



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