Algae are getting it on in the Slufter

The world’s first floating algae basins have been launched in the Slufter at the Maasvlakte in the port of Rotterdam. The basins are part of a pilot project to see whether it is feasible to cultivate algae at this location as a feedstock source for the biobased industry. And even before the experiment has really started, the number of algae is already exceeding expectations.

“The Slufter is teeming with algae,” says Arnout van Diem, managing director of Algae Food & Fuel, the main party behind the pilot. “We haven’t done anything to speed up growth yet and the depot is now already containing 50 grams of algae per cubic meter. That means that in 100 hectares there would be 50,000 kilos of raw feedstock available at this time. Algae can multiply incredibly fast under the right circumstances, within hours, and the Slufter covers an area of 260 hectares. So the potential is enormous.”

The Slufter was constructed in the 1980’s as a depot on the Maasvlakte for the storage of contaminated slurry. Currently, the Slufter is around 50 per cent full. It is possible that the Slufter will never fill up completely. The need for storage space for contaminated slurry is decreasing due to great improvements in the water quality of the Rhine and Maas basins, which have resulted in a cleaner riverbed. That is why the Port of Rotterdam Authority is looking for other uses for the depot and therefore has invited market parties to develop an algae project. The pilot of a consortium including Algae Food & Fuel was selected.

Van Diem: “The pilot project is mend to determine what types of algae house in the depot naturally, their composition and whether it is possible to speed up the reproduction process by adding CO2 or warm waste water from power plants to the basins. Some algae species are oil-rich and can be used for biofuels for instance. They may also contain proteins, or vitamins and pigments. Algae yield more biomass per hectare than any other crop. In addition, algae are able to turn CO2 from the industry into useful materials and they clean up wastewater as well.”

The project is supported by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, Rijkswaterstaat (the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management) and the Rotterdam Climate Initiative.

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