Aqualia Gestion Integral del Agua SA, a Spanish company supplying waste water services to 30 million people, started work at a 12 million-euro ($15.9 million) project using waste water and algae to generate energy.
The All-Gas project will grow algae using sunlight and nutrients found in waste-water at a plant in Chiclana, southern Spain. The algae will be harvested for transformation into biofuels, according to a statement from Aqualia and the European Union, which is backing the project with 7 million euros.
“Today, we are wasting resources and producing useless sludge,” Frank Rogalla, the project leader at Aqualia, said in an interview. “Now we will use these resources to produce biofuel without any leftovers, and having a positive impact.”
The European Union plans to get 10 percent of its transport energy from biofuels, hydrogen and renewable power by 2020. The target seeks to help cut the bloc’s emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels. The All-Gas project could generate enough biodiesel and biomethane for 400 fleet vehicles, according to Aqualia.
The five-year project will start with a prototype facility during the first two years followed by scaling up to demonstrate the technology on 10 hectares of algal culture ponds in the following three years, according to the statement.
“A town of 25,000 people can produce with 10 hectares worth of land about 1 tonne of biodiesel per day and about 1,500 or so cubic meters of biomethane,” Rogalla said.
The technology may be cost competitive with fossil fuels by about 2015 as the price of oil rises and because the nitrogen and phosphorus the algae require to grow is freely available in waste water, Rogalla said.
Biofuels from algae avoid issues associated with growing crops such as oil palm, sugar cane and canola for biofuel, which have larger land requirements, according to Aqualia.
Policies promoting the crops, known as “first generation” biofuels, have been criticized by groups including Friends of the Earth and ActionAid for diverting land away from growing food contributing to higher food prices and eradicating forest.
“The opportunity is such that 60 million people, roughly the U.K. population, would be able to power 1 million vehicles from just flushing their toilet,” Rogalla said. Aqualia is developing the project with six other partners.