Sustainable aviation fuels from algae

Airline Arke and Wageningen University & Research collaborate on the development of sustainable aviation fuels from algae. Microalgae offer great potential for the production of sustainable biofuels, such as bio-kerosene.

Advantages of algae

The cultivation of microalgae offers significant advantages over other biomass sources that are currently being used for biofuel production. Cultivation of microalgae is more productive than traditional crops. Micro-algae produce large quantities of oil, carbohydrates and proteins per hectare depending on the species of algae and growth mode. Another advantage is that CO2 from flue gas and nutrients from wastewater can be used for the algae production Furthermore, algae can be grown in locations that are unsuitable for agriculture and seawater instead of fresh water can be used so there is no competition with food production.

Sustainability in aviation

To make flying more sustainable, there is a great need in the aviation industry to develop a carbon neutral, sustainable alternative for kerosene. Arke has therefore commissioned Wageningen UR to explore the potential of bio-kerosene production from microalgae. If the production of bio-kerosene from algae turns out to be economically and technologically feasible, Arke is willing to invest in large scale production of algae.

In 2011, Wageningen UR opened the research and pilot facility AlgaePARC where research is conducted into the production of chemicals and fuels from microalgae. Wageningen UR (department BioProcess Engineering and Research Institute Food & Biobased Research) has established a leading position in algae research. The Centre for Biobased Economy (CBBE) is co-sponsor of this research.

Research on economic feasibility, sustainability and co-products

A major challenge for the cost-effective production of biofuels from algae is that the production costs need to be reduced by a factor ten or more. This can in part be achieved via technological developments and scale-up of algal production systems. Another useful approach is the recovery of valuable co-products (such as proteins) from the microalgal biomass via development of biorefinery technologies. Bio-refining is the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of bio-based products (food, feed, chemicals, materials) and bioenergy (biofuels, power and/or heat). In this project Wageningen UR also performs research on the economics of algae-based bio-kerosene, through benchmarking with current aviation fuels, identification of partners for technology development and an analysis of sustainability, in particular CO2 savings. Based on the results of the study a road map will be set up including a program for research, development and demonstration of large-scale production of algae bio-kerosene with adequate specifications and at competitive costs.