Prototype Göteborg – Industridoktorn demonstrates cultivation of microalgae
Göteborg celebrates 400 years as a city from the 2nd of June to the 3rd of September 2023. The celebration is arranged by Göteborg Stad with project leadership from Göteborg & Co. During the festivities we show out prototype with cultivation of microalgae. Welcome to take a look inside the re-used container in Jubileumsparken at Frihamnen this summer!
Micro algae are micrometer-sized organisms that you cannot see one by one with the naked eye. Many together can be seen as a green or brownish colour in the water (if free floating they are called phyco plankton) or on different surfaces like for instance walls on buildings. They live using sunlight, water, carbon dioxide from the air and minerals that they convert via photosynthesis into biomass and oxygen. They are more efficient than plants (algae are not actual plants) in producing much biomass per area and produces about half of the oxygen on earth! The fossil oil that we utilize mainly originates from microalgae. When the oil is incinerated, for example as diesel or gasoline, the carbon dioxide fixed by the micro algae for up to 1 million years ago is released into the atmosphere again and gives rise to the greenhouse effect. Except using the algae as a means to re-capture carbon dioxide from the air or industrial emissions, the tiny cells can be cultivated at large scale and provide food, feed, medical drugs, plastics, paint and lots more. Micro algae are fantastic!
The prototype by Industridoktorn in Frihamnen demonstrates the processes with both growth of algae and sedimentation in the water column. In the high tube a green micro alga called Chlorella vulgaris is growing, a species that is easy to cultivate and is also grown globally at commercial scale. The nutrients that the algae grow on consists of ordinary garden fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorous and trace elements. The lamp provides light energy and the bubbling of air provides both carbon dioxide for growth and some mixing in the upper layer. In the lower layer the mixing is intentionally low to simulate the bottom of a lake or the sea. As time goes on the cells grow in numbers and the weight of the biomass increases and the cells slowly sink to the bottom and form a sediment, that keeps growing thicker with time.
At pilot scale we have cultivated microalgae at industrial sites (paper mill, lead smelter) with flue gas as carbon dioxide source and sunlight. Then the biomass is harvested once a year in an energy efficient process. When the sediment thereafter is dried a blackgreen cake is formed, consisting of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids (fat), which is rich in energy. The cake can give you a picture of how sedimented biomass, in nature preserved under high pressure during a long time without being completely degraded on the sea floor, is transformed into fossil oil.
Projects described on the page “Research and projects” show examples of practical applications of using algae and cyanobacteria. https://industridoktorn.se/en/research-public-funding-2/
The research laboratory driven by the sun!
Not just the Industridoktorn laboratory but the whole property with workshop, gym and offices are now solar driven.
At Industridoktorn we have built one of the most energy efficient laboratories there is, with a fan system that only utilizes energy equivalent to a small microwave oven of 800 W. However, energy savings is one thing and what type of energy source is another. Therefore the lab has got solar panels for as much as 31 kW installed on the roof facing south. This corresponds to the operation of 38 microwave ovens. Our new favorite unit is SMWE, meaning “small microwave equivalent”!
The energy from the sun is estimated to cover about 80% of the yearly energy consumption by the property and also supplies electricity for two car charging points. It is fantastic that our property owners Sörgårdskile AB invest like this …but of course, the sun always shines at Björkö!
Industridoktorn – the only sun driven laboratory in Sweden?
The Industridoktorn laboratory now classified for protection level 2
Recently we were inspected by The Swedish Work Environment Authority (with excellent results). They looked at our clean room for handling of microorganisms plus documentation and work procedures, but what does risk classification and protection levels really mean?
Infectious agents are classified into four risk groups based on their ability to infect humans and cause disease. The handling of microbes in risk groups 2-4 are notifiable and regulated by the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
Risk group 1 includes microorganisms that are not infectious and working with them does not need to be notified and has no special handling demands. Risk group 2 includes infectious agents that can infect people but that do not cause permanent illness, or the disease can be cured of efficiently prevented. The most dangerous infectious diseases belongs to risk groups 3 and 4. The nowadays familiar Sars Cov-2 belongs to risk group 3 and Ebola belongs to risk group 4.
For natural reasons, corresponding demands are put on the protection levels at the laboratories. Labs with protection levels 2 and 3 are relatively common, but at protection level 4 there is only one approved lab in the Nordic countries qualified for this. We are talking about a separate fully isolated building, “space suits”, air locks and lots of ethanol (interesting combination…).
Pressure testing and control of our Hepa air filters were recently approved so that we for real can start our microbiological work. It means that we for instance can verify that our new surveillance robots measure viruses and bacteria correctly.