From coal to seaweed to animal feed
The three-year project, which was announced by the ISTC last month, aims to demonstrate that the production of seaweed for basic animal feed can be profitable and has additional environmental benefits.
Seaweed has been used for decades in niche health and beauty markets. A more recent focus is its ability to utilize CO2 coal-fired power plants to make biofuels and protein-rich food products.
Algae is fast growing compared to traditional terrestrial forage crops, so it is an attractive alternative to use to absorb CO2 power plants because it requires less land, according to ISTC principal investigator Lance Schideman. Researchers will use the Spirulina as it is already FDA approved for use as a food ingredient and has a high protein content, which leads to higher prices.
The algae cultivation system will be integrated into the City Water, Light and Power plant in Springfield, Illinois. Schideman is collaborating with University of Illinois researchers Joshua McCann and Carl Parsons, who will lead the animal feeding studies. Global Algae Innovations will provide the algae biomass production system that will be demonstrated at field scale for this project. The project is co-funded by the US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
In the past, ISTC scientists have studied wastewater algae systems that are now in use at 10 large-scale wastewater treatment plants. They have also been a leader in recycling by-products of hydrothermal biofuel production to improve algal biomass productivity. Global Algae Innovations is a leading equipment designer and supplier to the algae industry that has developed and demonstrated cost-effective, large-scale algae production systems.
“We are bringing all the pieces together in a coordinated way and reducing the net costs of algal farming by using industrial and municipal by-products as inputs to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of algal carbon capture,” Schideman said in a press release issued by ISTC.
This approach reduces pollution and replaces costly CO2 and nutrient inputs used in most algal culture systems. In current business technology, managers buy liquid CO2 and various commercial fertilizers for nutrient supply.
The wastewater, rich in organic nutrients that promote algae growth, will come from a local treatment plant.
“The use of wastewater saves money in the production process and helps solve the problems that wastewater treatment plants have when trying to minimize nutrient releases to the environment,” Schideman said. “In Illinois, sewage treatment plants are under increasing scrutiny, and now voluntary regulations are expected to become more stringent and potentially mandatory over the next decade.”
Ultimately, the system will produce feed specifically for livestock and chickens. The product will be dry, which helps reduce spoilage, and will have a high nutritional value compared to some other foods.
The typical price range for most bulk animal feed ingredients is $150 to $350 per ton, and some high value products can have a market value of $1,000 to $2,000 per ton. Seaweed has the potential to command near premium prices, as some species contain highly nutritional components such as antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, seaweed-based pet foods are not yet established in the market and the value of these products needs to be demonstrated through research studies like this one.
Schideman notes that the size of the pet food market is quite large and correlates well with the amount of CO2 produced by the country’s power stations. Thus, using CO2 from combustion gases in algae production has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gases.