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Developing the next generation Macro-Algae based biofuels for transportation via advanced bio-refinery processes

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - MacroFuels (Developing the next generation Macro-Algae based biofuels for transportation via advanced bio-refinery processes)

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

The MacroFuels project targeted the production of advanced fuels from seaweed for transportation and aviation. The project succeeded in producing ethanol, butanol, furanics as well as biogas at litre scale. Fuels were tested in a real car engine to assess and demonstrate their performance at this early stage of technology development.
Seaweed do not compete with arable land, do not use fresh water and if sustainably produced can have significant environmental benefits. Ambitious targets included:
• Increase the seaweed supply to the target yield at 25kg ww/m² per year.
• Improve the pre-treatment and storage of seaweed to yield fermentable and convertible sugars at economically relevant concentrations.
• Increase the bioethanol and butanol titer to economically viable concentrations.
• Increase the biogas yield to convert 90% of the available carbon in residues.
• Develop thermochemical conversion processes of seaweed sugars to furan-based fuels.
• Perform an integral techno-economic, sustainability and risk assessment of the entire seaweed to biofuel chain.
MacroFuels demonstrated the technical feasibility of producing fuels from seaweed and validated them in commercial engines. This is an important step towards reaching the RED-II targets and providing opportunities for a growing seaweed industry in Europe. Expanding the availability of sustainable biomass as well as a plant-based protein source has a large contribution potential towards the 2050 EU climate goals. MacroFuels’ concepts and results have been presented via the project’s website, social media, conferences and large public events (EXPO2017, EUSEW2019). Brochures and flyers, 8 open access publications, abstracts and book chapters resulted from the project. Policy Briefs and Fact Sheets, press releases and videos on seaweed cultivation, fuel production and testing and social and environmental impacts led to >70 press articles and a Euronews TV feature as part of the Futuris science program (1st broadcast: 17th Feb 2020).
•Seaweed cultivation, seeding and harvesting processes: A novel year-round cultivation approach for seaweed was developed. Production yield of 19 kg/lm of brown seaweed was achieved. The exposed off-shore Danish site was better for seaweed cultivation compared to sheltered sites, which is promising for upscaling European offshore seaweed cultivation. Direct seeding on advanced cultivation substrates with novel binders reduced cost of operation. A prototype automated harvester was constructed and demonstrated. Novel seaweed storage bags allowed simultaneous storing and ensiling of seaweed at sea.
•Conditioning of seaweed: Chemical and biological ensiling processes were developed and optimized. Biological ensiling was promising as a cost-effective operation for long term storage of seaweed.
•Hydrolysis of seaweed sugars to fermentable substrates: Fermentable sugars were obtained by using commercial 2G bioethanol enzymes directly on brown seaweed or on extracted laminarins. Hydrolysis by recombinant enzymes and mild chemical treatment combined with membrane filtration for salt removal was also tested successfully. As such MacroFuels reached fermentable sugar content at 60 g/L in hydrolysate.
•Fermentation to biofuels: Commercial and novel strains have been developed and tested for production of ethanol and butanol from all seaweed sugars. Novel strategy of combined biorefinery and biofuel production was developed including extraction of laminarins under mild conditions. Baker’s yeast converted the extracted laminarins to ethanol rapidly and efficiently with achieved yield up to 78%. The novel strains show higher butanol production yields after adaptating to seaweed hydrolysates. Biogas production of up to 60% methane and conversion of 70% of the total carbon in seaweed and residues of biofuel production were achieved. Pilot production of ethanol and ABE from seaweed sugars were demonstrated. 9.4 L of distilled ethanol and 9.6 L of purified n-butanol were delivered for real engine test.
•Thermochemical fuel production: High yields of furfural, 5-methylfurfural and other furfural derivates were obtained from model sugars and seaweed hydrolysates from xylose (red/green seaweed), laminarin (brown seaweed) and rhamnose (green seaweed) respectively. Furfural was further catalytically upgraded to a furanic fuel blend by reacting it with ethanol or butanol at lab scale, producing a furanic based fuel blend. in high yields. P. palmata was converted via furfural and butanol to a novel furanic fuel at kg-scale.
•Engine tests: The MacroFuels’ produced fuels (vide supra) were tested with a stationary engine as well as road tests. Bioethanol and biobutanol were used as 10% blends (cf. E95). The furanic fuel was used as 5% blend with diesel as reference. All the blends performed well in both stationary engine test and realistic road test, with emissions lower than acceptable limits.
•Techno-economic and sustainability assessment: A multi-criteria assessments of MacroFuels’ biofuels, compared
Realistically, seaweed-derived biofuels could be available in the market earliest by 2030. Thus, MacroFuels has made a substantial contribution towards EU’s energy and climate goals. MacroFuels progressed well beyond the state of the art by:
•Demonstrating the technical feasibility of converting seaweed to advanced biofuels. Thus, the first step towards using this feedstock has been set. Seaweed, as described, when cultivated sustainably at sea, is a feedstock that does not compete with food or feed production.
•Increasing the efficiency of conversion of selected seaweed sugar polymers to advanced biofuels ethanol, butanol and furanic fuels.
•Demonstrating the biorefinery concept that accompanied the biofuel production.
•Benefiting the overall economy by co-production of value-added products e.g. protein, fucoidan, or antioxidants.
•Determining the energy balance of three seaweed-based fuel production processes and identifying the potential for significant cost reduction.
•Increasing, by its interdisciplinary nature, the innovation capacity of the seaweed and biofuel community. Parnters SIOEN and AVT developed novel processes and products to be introduced to the market likely within 3 to 5 years.
•Upscaling and successfully uptaking the MacroFuels concepts, which results in wide social impacts, including the economic development and empowerment of rural and remote areas and the creation of work places. Replacing fossil fuels by sustainable advanced fuels can help to lower the social burden as consequence from climate change, especially from seaweed which has great potential for CO2 capture from the atmosphere and oxygen release in the ocean.
The car with PEMS package for testing the MacroFuels fuel samples under real driving circumstance
Upscaled biobutanol production from red seaweed
Pilot production of bioethanol from dried S. latissima by DTI (in AU Biorefinery Pilot)
Textile substrates covered with S. latissima in Autumn in Denmark (left) and in Spring in Scotland