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Produce components for various materials, including for food and feed, from microalgae


Demonstrate the efficient and sustainable cultivation, recovery and processing of microalgae and downstream production of high-value chemicals and/or materials including food and feed ingredients.

The scope of this topic excludes energy carriers (such as liquid fuels or hydrogen) as the main products.

Proposals should aim for large-scale continuous cultivation and recovery of microalgae, as well as separation and purification of the targeted products.

Proposals should also aim at reducing inputs for microalgae cultivation such as energy, water, nutrients and CO2 (or other carbon sources in case heterotrophic microalgae are envisaged).

Proposals should valorise as many as possible of the valuable compounds contained in the microalgae through a cascading approach.

Proposals should demonstrate that the quality of the obtained products meets the requirements of specific market applications.

Proposals should address all requirements for IA - demonstration actions as shown in Table 3 in the Introduction of the Annual Work plan 2019.

The technology readiness level (TRL) at the end of the project should be 6-7. Proposals should clearly state the starting and end TRLs of the key technology or technologies targeted in the project.

Indicative funding:

It is considered that proposals requesting a maximum contribution of EUR 7 million would be able to address this specific challenge appropriately. However, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Due to their high productivity and their potential for avoiding competition with arable lands, microalgae are regarded as a valuable feedstock for biorefining operations. Microalgae are a potential source of molecules for a wide range of novel high-value products in different applications such as energy, fuel, food, feed, pharmaceutical and cosmetics. However, their current production scale and costs are holding back full-scale commercialisation steps. The main challenges regard: (i) efficiency of the cultivation method (in terms of growth rate and product synthesis rate); (ii) harvesting and separation of the microalgal biomass from the culture medium; (iii) pre-treatment of the algal biomass to release its components (mainly lipids, proteins, carbohydrates) for further conversion; and (iv) the further conversion steps themselves.

Growth rate and productivity of microalgae are affected by a number of factors such as availability of nutrients in the right amounts and compositions, presence of actinomycetes or other fungi, pH, light intensity and temperature. Open pond systems have relatively low capital costs and high scalability but may feature uneven mixing and nutrition conditions and are vulnerable to contamination and intrusion of alien species. Photobioreactor and closed-loop systems allow to better control growth conditions, but on the other hand require higher capital costs as well as higher maintenance costs.

Harvesting of microalgae is challenging and expensive due to small cell size and relatively low concentration. Several pre-treatment methods are employed, depending on the feedstock and desired products (chemical, enzymatic, physical, involving ionic liquids). The wide variability of microalgal feedstock composition and optimal growth conditions means that there is no one-fits-all solution; cultivation, harvesting and processing must be tailored to each species and targeted product.

The specific challenge is to scale up and lower the costs of microalgae cultivation combined with downstream processing towards commercial valorisation of marketable products.

Expected impacts linked to BBI JU KPIs:

  • contribute to KPI 1 – create at least one new cross-sector inter­connection in the bio-based economy;
  • contribute to KPI 2 – create at least one new bio-based value chain;
  • contribute to KPI 4 – demonstrate at least one new building block based on microalgae;
  • contribute to KPI 6 – demonstrate at least two new ‘consumer’ products based on bio-based chemicals and materials that meet market requirements.

Environmental impacts:

  • increase the overall resource efficiency;
  • reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions linked to microalgae cultivation, harvesting and downstream processing compared to the state of the art.

Economic impacts:

  • achieve at least a comparable, or lower, production cost (including extraction and purification cost) as compared with the state-of-the-art production route of the targeted product;
  • increase income and business opportunities for stakeholders and actors (including primary producers) in the bio-based sectors, in particular in the microalgae cultivation and conversion value chains.

Social impacts:

  • create new job opportunities in the bio-based sector, particularly the coastal and/or inland areas.

Type of action: Innovation action – demonstration action.