Our first Biospheria project has the explicit goal to bind CO2 with the help of algae and to use the resulting biotechnical products. Microalgae of the species Microchloropsis salina grow in the algae pilot plant of the Technical University of Munich with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, power plants or exhaust gases from the steel industry as feedstock. Its growth is driven by the world’s largest high-performance LED system. The fatty acid molecules obtained from algae oil can be used to produce biofuel. Kerosene from algae can be used as aircraft fuel without modification or additives. “What we lacked for a long time was a sensible valourisation of the second component of algae oil, glycerine,” explains Prof. Dr. Thomas Brück. This colourless chemical is in demand in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries – albeit in limited quantities. If algae kerosene is to be produced on a large scale, a plan is needed on how the quantities of glycerine produced can be used as profitably as possible.
The solution is provided by TechnoCarbonTechnologies. The company’s technology can be used, for example, to produce carbon fibres. Brück identified a way to convert glycerine into acrylonitrile. This chemical can then be polymerised to polyacrylonitrile (PAN), the classic starting material for the production of carbon fibres. These can be used, for example, as corrosion-free armouring for concrete, which thus becomes lighter and more durable. At the far end of their technical life, these carbon fibres and the CO2 they bind could then be stored forever in abandoned coal mines – the once fossil CO2 would be underground again. The process to produce algae carbon is still too expensive, and further optimisation is necessary. The goal, however, is to build a production plant for algae oil-based carbon fibers, preferably in sunny Spain.