The BIO4BIO project, (PON02_00451_33 62376 biomolecular and energetic enhancement of residual biomass in the agrindustrial sector) in which Plastica Alfa plays the key role of Project Manager, was funded with a over € 11 million budget and represent one of the most important strategic project of the Technology District Agrobiopesca located in Sicily.
The BIO4BIO aims to develop integrated enhancement processes starting from the production waste of the agroindustrial sector.
The project includes PMI and research public bodies like the National Council of Research and the Universities of Palermo, Catania and Messina.
The target is to transform the agro-industrial waste in a new product for the Functional Food Industry or animal feed in line with the biochemical characteristics of the wastes.
An additional strategic object is the production of energy from renewable sources through advanced process of thermo chemical degradation.
The citrus industry has developed an innovative low power consumption drying system able to dry the citrus pulp at about 80°C keeping intact the organic matrix from thermal degradation factors. The resulting product is still rich in terms of vitamins and proteins and suitable to be used in the feed production for the zootechnical industry or for the production of pectin, an essential element in the Functional Food Industry and the Pharmaceutical one.
The project has developed integrated systems of energy conversion using pyrogasification processes able to transform solid biomass fraction into gas producer with a high calorific power for the production of energy.
By using pyrolysis, it appears that the energy conversion technology is the most advanced and effective way to solve the problem of disposing biomass and/or wet waste fractions in the maximum respect for the environmental and working conditions.
The process is performed with a 850°C temperature kept constant throughout the pyrolysis reactor.
This temperature profile obtains a “gas producer” with a high calorific power which reduces dramatically the production of TARs. The thermal profile of the process, in absence of oxygen in the pyrolysis reactor, avoid the possibility to produce dioxins, aromatic polycyclic and furans. The gas producer, once the filtration process is terminated, is directly used in electric generators like internal combustion engine with high efficiency. From the gas washing process a by-product is extracted (pyrolysis oil) extremely important both from an energetic point of view (calorific power exceeding 7,000kcal/kg) and from the end production point of view of chemicals and biopolymers.
One of the strategic objectives of the Project BIO4BIO is the recovery of CO2 from industrial installations. The target is to develop systems of biochemical conversion of carbon dioxide through processes of algal growth. These biochemical processes are based on the mechanism of photosynthesis for which, some types of microalgae, under suitable conditions of temperature and in the presence of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, etc) can grow to concentrations of hundreds of millions of cells per milliliter by metabolizing the ‘carbon dioxide. The algal cultures consume large amounts of CO2, about two kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of algal biomass produced.
These processes are becoming increasingly important in the world market in strategic sectors like energy, functional food and pharmaceutical industries.
The efficiency conversion of solar energy into biomass from algal cultures in the biofuel production linked to its productivity per hectare, is much greater than the one achievable with traditional cultures. For example, one hectare of sunflower or rapeseed is able to produce 700-1000 kg of oil per year, while the algal cultures, in appropriate facilities with closed reactors or “photobioreactors”, exceed, in our central and southern European regions, 20 annual tons of oil per hectare.
Currently other industries are even more strategic for the algal cultures: the pharmaceutical, the food functional and the cosmetic one which look with growing interest at the microalgae as a source of antibiotics, antiviral, antioxidant and immunostimulants.
The values of the market are strongly influenced by the specific applications of these products. Regarding certain products with high added value in the functional food industry, for example, it is estimated that their world production is about 10,000 t / per year for Spirulina, with a market value of about $ 10,000 / t, 4000 t / per year and $ 20,000 / t for Chlorella , 1000 t / y and $ 20,000 / t for the production of Dunaliella, and 200 t / y, and $ 100,000 / t for Haematococcus. These are strategic markets constantly growing characterized by ever-increasing demands of selected and purified products.
The exploitation of microalgae requires a suitable culture system which includes two main types: open tank or closed photobioreactors (horizontal or vertical). Between them, the open tank is the most widely used as the 90% of produced microalgae in the world comes from this type of installation. However, open basins, have serious limitations like the requirement of high surface, the difficulty to control the contaminants, the loss of large quantities of water due of evaporation (100-200 m3/ha per die) and strong salinity variations due of rainwater which compromise the stability of the system and the degree of purity of the produced microalgae.
The growing demand for functional food and pharmaceutical products is driving the investors towards more reliable system which can guarantee greater returns and product purity.
or these reasons Plastic Alfa is developing closed photobioreactors. Such polymer-based systems include specific nanofillers able to increase the resistance to photochemical degradation due to long exposure to solar radiation in the years.
The photobioreactor has to ensure in the long run sufficient transparency to allow the light radiation to reach the growing algal culture.
Currently a semi industrial prototype system is in the process to be designed and developed and should be installed at the Plastica Alfa business premises. At the same time, an integrated system able to manage the temperature of the total volume of the medium growth of the microalgae is developed to maintain constant (24/24-7/7) a temperature of 28 °C +/- 2 ° C, suitable for the growth of selected algal strain designed for the BIO4BIO project. The target is to develop photobioreactors for complete installation system able to growth algal on a large scale.