Food supplements, medicine, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fuel or CO2 fixation: the cultivation of microalgae offers many interesting possibilities. Researchers even suspect that central problems of the future can be solved with algae. One challenge here is cultivating the organisms. How can this task be mastered?
Plastic tubes as photobioreactors offer the best conditions for this. We produce PMMA tubes in various dimensions and diameters for this purpose. Find out more about the application and product advantages here or contact us directly for a personal consultation.
Algae need light and nutrients for their growth, especially CO2, which serves them as a carbon source. As aquatic organisms, they also need salt or fresh water as a living environment, depending on the species.
This results in high requirements for algae cultivation. In particular, cultivation in open waters is often not practical for various reasons. On the one hand, the organisms are susceptible to disturbances such as changes in pH, and on the other hand, contamination of the open water is a major problem. Artificial algae farms, known as bioreactors, have proven to be much more effective. In water-filled tubes, microorganisms grow under nearly ideal conditions. Factors such as the CO2 saturation of the water, nutrients, temperature and salinity can be precisely adjusted.
In addition, the pipes offer a much larger surface area in relation to their volume than lakes or ponds. This is a decisive advantage, because light reaches the algae via the surface. This enables them to carry out photosynthesis, i.e. to convert CO2 and water into oxygen and biomass.
In detail, the next question is how photobioreactors are sized and manufactured. One approach uses glass tubes because the material has high transmission values and is easy to clean. However, glass tubes for algae cultivation have several disadvantages. The material is very heavy, expensive and prone to breakage. A much better solution is plastic tubes made of PMMA.
PMMA plastic is also known as acrylic glass, which already indicates its properties. The thermoplastic is 1.9 times lighter than glass. In addition, PMMA from our production is highly transparent (about 92% transmission), so that a maximum of light is available for photosynthesis. Other important advantages are:
Freedom from harmful substances is particularly important in the production of high-quality foods. PMMA is approved for contact with foodstuffs, so the photobioreactors are suitable, for example, for obtaining food supplements or preparations containing omega-3 fatty acids.
We manufacture PMMA tubes in many variants with diameters from 30 to 500 mm and lengths of 10 meters and more.
We have a deep know-how in the production of plastic tubes made of PMMA. We are happy to incorporate this into the production of new components. Especially for vertical algae bioreactors, for example, we manufacture tubes with increasing wall thickness from top to bottom to compensate for the increasing pressure in the lower area.
PMMA tubes for algae cultivation are often cheaper to purchase than glass. This makes many plants economical that would otherwise not be feasible. For the same reason, PMMA reactors pay for themselves much faster, which is a decisive plus point with investors.
PMMA inherently shows high resistance to biofouling, i.e. the colonization of the surface with algae or debris, which reduces the need for maintenance.
PMMA also impresses with its great robustness. The material can additionally be tuned by us to provide even greater impact resistance
Research with algae began several decades ago. Scientists are fascinated by the growth rate of aquatic organisms. Compared to plants on land, they can fix CO2 much faster and form biomass from it. This can be explained, among other things, by the constant conditions in the water and the high cell division rate of blue-green algae and similar microorganisms.
This is not the only advantage that algae offer. Since very many different species are known that can be used in photobioreactors, the possible applications are manifold. Among other things, algae serve as:
As an example, two interesting large-scale applications will be examined in more detail: Algae as CO2 storage and for the production of food supplements.
Algae for the production of omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients
Omega-3 fatty acids are among the essential fatty acids. This means that they are essential for life and cannot (in part) be produced by the body itself. A high-quality source of these fatty acids in the diet is fish.
Interestingly, fish in turn cannot produce these fatty acids themselves either, but absorb them from algae. This has led to the idea of obtaining this high-quality nutrient directly from microalgae such as spirulina, chlorella, dunaliella, ulkenia or schizochytrium. With success: today there are various preparations that are offered in stores, for example, as algae oil or as omega-3 tablets. They are suitable as dietary supplements and are selling increasingly well.
With microalgae cultivation, other food supplements are also accessible, for example for the supply of vitamin B12 or iodine. In principle, it is advantageous here to cultivate the algae in photobioreactors in order to be able to support and monitor growth in the best possible way and to ensure repeatable high quality.
Another exciting property of algae is their ability to fix large amounts of CO2. The setup of a corresponding plant is relatively simple: exhaust gases, for example from a power plant, are passed through a tubular reactor containing algae suspension. The organisms absorb CO2 and convert it into biomass. Oxygen is released in the process.
This process can be operated with different objectives. If the biomass is dried and deposited, CO2 can be permanently bound. This allows the content of CO2 in the air to be reduced.
More often, however, the biomass itself is used as a raw material, for example for biofuel. This is converted back into CO2 during combustion, but unlike the use of fossil fuels, the CO2 balance here is neutral: no further climate-damaging gas is released into the atmosphere.
It is particularly exciting that algae reactors are currently being tested in many different sizes. The dimensioning results in each case from the specific requirements of the technology. Small reactors are used to improve the air in buildings or to conduct research on a micro scale. Large algae reactors are used to produce nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. The largest units are currently used to capture CO2 with high efficiency.
ATHEX supplies tubes with diameters ranging from 30 to 500 millimeters. This makes the PMMA tubes from our production suitable for a wide variety of reactors.
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