Innovative algae technology that could turn millions of tons of coal dust wasted annually in South Africa and elsewhere into high quality clean coal will be publically demonstrated for the first time on Monday 27 January.
The pioneering technology – developed by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University over the past three years with funding from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) – is also being used to produce aviation bio-fuel.
Plans are afoot for these green products to be commercialised.
Guest of honour at the prestigious showcasing event is Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom. As part of its national biofuels strategy, the Department of Science and Technology established a Biofuels Demonstration Programme aimed at the development of biofuels – and has provided the funding for NMMU to undertake research on algal-based biofuels, from the production of algal biomass to using algae for fuel production.
One of the main areas of research at NMMU’s internationally-recognised institute of chemical technology, InnoVenton, has been the conversion of waste coal into a usable high quality clean coal using algal biomass. Researchers have found that the microalgae can be combined with coal and charcoal and acts as an excellent binder for fine coal.
“If you mix coal dust and algae biomass, the algae adsorps [collects] onto the surface of the coal and binds the dust together,” said InnoVenton’s Prof Ben Zeelie. The result is a coal-algae composite [briquette or pellet], for which they’ve coined the name CoalgaeTM.
The Coalgae? composites may be used as a substitute in applications that require coal, or may be further processed through a variety of additional technologies, such as pyrolysis (heating in the absence of oxygen). The result of the additional processing is a bio-fossil crude oil blend that may be processed into a variety of fuels, including gasoline, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel, and heavy fuel oil.
Carbon sequestration, the upgrading of low grade coal and the production of clean water (a spin-off of the process) are among the advantages of the production of Coalgae?, which, along with the production of the bio-crude oil, have presented commercial opportunities.
Consulting engineering firm Hatch-Goba recently completed a pre-feasibility engineering study on the microalgae technologies, which has resulted in a robust and cost-effective design for Coalgae? production on a semi- and full commercial scale. A full feasibility study will be conducted in early 2014.
Aspects of Coalgae? technology to be demonstrated on Monday include the cultivation of microalgae (in the closed photo-bioreactor system developed by NMMU), the use of coal-generated flue gas to meet the microalgae’s need for carbon dioxide and fixed nitrogen, the harvesting of the microalgae, the production of the coal-microalgae composites, and their conversion into raw bio-crude oil.
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