SCIENTISTS and industrialists are working together to create an environmentally friendly energy source out of the kind of green algae found on the beach at the seaside.
The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) in Redcar has linked up with engineering giant Arup by growing algae, which naturally draws in carbon dioxide, and using it to produce environmentally friendly products.
The centre said the plant has the potential to replace traditional sources of bio-energy, such as those derived from waste, oil or wood, and could lead to the development of a dedicated industry once it is fully developed.
The energy source would reduce the region’s reliance on fossil fuels and artificial chemicals in crop growth and has the potential to benefit a number of sectors, including the production of bio-ethanol, which can be used as a motor fuel, as well as biopharmaceuticals and methane rich biogas which would reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.
Both CIP and Arup believe the plant, which could also produce a rich compost and a non-chemical soil conditioner for crop production, has the potential to reduce the carbon dioxide that power plants emit by 70% to 80%, and dramatically reduce their carbon footprint.
Dr. Graham Hillier, low carbon energy director at CPI, said that one of the biggest hurdles was developing a range of chemicals treatments to enhance the amount of energy produced by algae so that farms could be controlled at a reasonable size.
He said: "The roll-out of algae as an energy source will be a great challenge for the process development and construction industries. Government and business, working together, must show leadership, ownership and commitment to attract investment and build technological capability.
"We are planning a rapid research and development programme to move the concept from small-scale testing to larger scale demonstration. We are also looking at ways of integrating the processes into existing power supply and waste management systems."
The concept first emerged during Arup's work on carbon capture and research into food technologies in China. Peter Head, director and global head of planning at Arup, said: "It not only has the potential to reduce carbon dioxide output, but could potentially provide an alternative source of fuel in itself, and through its by-products, a new revenue stream to support investment in carbon capture technologies."