Italy-headed oil, gas, and energy major Eni S.p.A. has announced the launch of an experimental plant for the biofixation of carbon dioxide (CO2) through the cultivation of microalgae with the aid of artificial LED light. The plant, built at the Eni Research Centre for Renewable Energy and the Environment in Novara, represents a further step towards its objectives of decarbonisation and promoting a circular economy.
The algal biofixation process exploits chlorophyll photosynthesis to enhance the use of CO2 as a raw material in high-value products such as algal flour for food/nutraceutical markets, and/or bio-oil – not in competition with agricultural crops – to be used as a raw material in biorefineries.
The technology is based on an entirely Italian supply chain. Eni is accelerating its application in the field as it sees it as a strategic solution for the reduction of climate-altering emissions.
The pilot plant, consisting of four photobioreactors, is integrated with renewable energy sources and is based on Photo B-Otic technology, with which Eni has signed a License Agreement.
Photo B-Otic was created to support the development of biofixation technology and starts from the initiative of MEG, Everbloom, Abel Nutraceuticals, and the Arcobaleno Cooperative. The latter is a majority shareholder and has promoted this entrepreneurial initiative, which is the result of decades of research work in the field of nutraceuticals and biotechnologies in collaboration with the DIATI of the Politecnico di Torino.
The photobioreactors on which the technology is based are composed of innovative hydraulic panels, in which the microalgae circulate. This are equipped with LED lighting panels that spread the light evenly, identifying the preferred wavelengths for photosynthesis. The modulation of light for intensity and quality is controlled according to the optimal growing conditions.
The advantages of this technology are its high CO2 fixation efficiency, simplicity, modularity, and compactness, as well as its ability to operate 24/7. These factors make it interesting as a potential solution to be implemented across all logistically favorable areas, even in sites that cannot be used for agriculture or abandoned and converted industrial areas.
Currently, the pilot plant has reached very promising daily biomass productivity data which – when confirmed on a larger scale – could allow a plant with a footprint of 1 hectare (ha) to produce 500 tonnes of biomass annually, using 1 000 tonnes of CO2.