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Innovative Stirring Blade Technology to increase profitability in the industry of algae culture based on CFD techniques (SBTech)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SBTech (Innovative Stirring Blade Technology to increase profitability in the industry of algae culture based on CFD techniques (SBTech))

Reporting period: 2019-12-01 to 2020-05-31

THE PROBLEM

Microalgae cultivation is an emerging market with wide potential for fuels, foods, animal feed, pharmaceuticals, industrial applications, and environmental benefits. In addition, microalgae offer many environmental advantages compared to conventional wastewater treatment (WWT): energy saving, higher nutrients removal from effluent, reduction of CO2 emissions, etc. However, the growth of this market is limited by some technological difficulties that must be overcome to achieve a more profitable industry and sustainable wastewater management.
Additionally, the case of microalgae cultivation for other high-value products in close systems presents other problems such as the high price of closed photobioreactors (PBRs) compared with the volume they contain. Current technologies cannot offer an efficient mixing of the microalgae culture, therefore the tubes have to be thin to allow for enough light radiation. This fact implies that the amount of tubes has to be large leading to high investment costs.

THE SOLUTION:

D&BTech propose a breakthrough concept that combines three main novelties to improve cultivation of microalgae in open tanks, with the aim to be also adapted to the PBRs systems in the near future:

1. High Yield Propeller Driving System (REHYS). Current solution based on paddlewheels is replaced by a submerged propeller pump, saving around 40% in comparison to paddlewheel.
2. Additionally, by an innovative design of the channels (raceways), the hydraulic pressure drops (head loss) is reduced and, therefore, the energy consumption of the drive unit is minimized too. It is possible to reduce the head loss by 20%.
3. Our patented Stirring Blade Technology for enhancing mixing to provide a more uniform distribution of nutrients, light, air, and CO2 in microalgae culture. It allows a deeper light absorption of the culture. It also prevents microalgae and suspended solids from settling on the bottom of the pond. Stirring of algal culture is enhanced by stable longitudinal vortex tubes generated by streamlined bodies which generates intense vortices with reduced losses. This system has been proven to increase performance by a 50-80%, although more data of microalga growth needs to be taken.

The main objective of this Phase 1 is to carry out a throughout Feasibility Study that assesses the technical, commercial and financial feasibility of our novel solution.
The Work Plan of our Phase 1 included 4 main tasks, whose results are summarised below:

T.1. Market study and segmentation update: we conclude that we have a great deal to offer to all market segments, though the greatest interest and growth potential is in the segment of urban WWT. In particular, there are many EU Southern and Eastern countries where new WWT plants need to be installed. From our market study on the microalgae industry we conclude that, for D&BTech, WWT is a very wide market segment and the most promising one (more than 6,000 M€/year investment in Europe (EU28) in the next years).

T.2. Freedom to Operate (FtO) analysis and IPR Strategy: Before we submitted the proposal for our patent entitled “Vortex generator for channels and conduits” we reviewed the technologies published about mixing of fluids in channels and conduits. In the last months we have searched again for new patents in the field of vortex generation and fluid mixing. No patents show to be a potential barrier for our developments. Besides, as the key D&BTech devices systems are protected by patent (or in process), we maintain our initial idea that imitations of the technology could be law suited in court.

T.3. Technical Work Plan: We have developed a throughout Work Plan to install two scale WWT ponds in a technological institute, a strategic partner of the project. Likewise, we have to comply with regulations at an industrial-level and a demonstrating WWT plant will be used for end-user validation. We also plan to build a pilot to test with our technological improvements in PBRs, previously developed with CFD simulation and laboratory tests. To carry out this final development stage we will address an Accelerator Instrument. It is intended to request approximately € 1,7 M to finance part of the two pilots of 400 m2 and a demonstration facility of 2500 m2 that will serve for the commercial launch. At the same time, it will be built a demonstration plant for PBRs with the SBTech technology.

T.4. Business Plan: A complete Business Plan has been issued for our products. Our launching phase (time to market) is foreseen for year 2023, 2 years after market preparation (precommercialization phase 2020-2022) through the implementation of the EIC Accelerator Project. The different phases of the market entry are projected as follows: 1st stage: 2023, launching; 2nd stage: 2024, growth; 3rd stage: 2025, consolidation; 4th stage: 2026, Maturity. According to our projections, we expect to reach a cumulative turnover of €60.4M with a cumulative profit of €16.9M€ by the 3th year from the market launch.
Our products and patented technologies based on highly efficient mixing of the culture will overcome existing solutions for microalgae culture by:

• increasing microalgae growth rate in open raceways by 40-80%
• reducing power consumption by up to 60% compared with the best available technology
• increasing the efficiency for nutrient removal, CO2 capture, and separation efficiency in WWT
• reducing investment cost by more than 20% for the same productivity.
• reducing the space needs (by 40%), by using a technology that allows deeper tanks;

The mere promotion of the microalgae system in WWT is as an interesting opportunity because it can benefit, not only the industry, but also the environment and the whole society. Microalgae in WWT presents some advantages when compared to the traditional biological WWT system such as:

(1) microalgae cultivation has an enormous potential to capture CO2 and to produce O2 at the same time
(2) they reduce the total concentration of nitrogen (by up to 95%), phosphors (by up to 90%), pharmaceutical compounds and heavy metals in the effluent of the WWTP, contributing to a healthy environment;
(3) microalgae treatment plants would drastically reduce energy consumption (no need of compressed air to dissolve oxygen).
(4) Additionally, they could contribute to circular economy by reusing water and biomass and producing biofertilizers and other by-products such as biofuels or biogas. All these points are aligned with the key issues for improvements regarded in the EU Evaluation of the WWTD.

For example, in a village of around 15,000 people, an SBTech installation in a microalgae WWT plant would reduce the initial investment needed by less than 20%, reduce the CO2 emissions by 90 Tm/year, reduce the concentration of nitrogen by 95%, and would reduce the operational cost and energy saving by around 45,000 euros/year.
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