The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) will begin cultivating spirulina for the animal feed market in a $2.5 million, three-year project. It aims to demonstrate that large-scale algae production can be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Construction of algal ponds is now underway and should be completed by the middle of 2022.
This initiative sits in a wider $67 million US carbon capture research project funded by the US Department of Energy. It will pilot-test a carbon dioxide capture system designed to process flue gas from the City Water, Light and Power plant in Springfield, Illinois. The carbon captured by this technology will be fed into the algal ponds. The algae will also be reared on nutrient-rich wastewater from local treatment plants.
Cultivation methods that use industrial by-products serve agricultural, waste treatment, and carbon capture purposes simultaneously, rendering it more cost-effective.
“Using wastewater is a cost savings in the production process and it helps to solve problems that wastewater treatment plants are experiencing in trying to minimize nutrient discharges in the environment,” explains the ISTC principal investigator. “In Illinois, the treatment plants are under increasing scrutiny, and regulations that are now voluntary are expected to become more stringent and potentially mandatory within the next decade.”
The project will be led by the centre’s principal investigator Lance Schideman. He will work alongside University of Illinois animal feed researchers Joshua McCann and Carl Parsons. Global Algae Innovations, an algal R&D company founded in 2013, is providing the biomass production system. The ISTC project will offer a chance to field-test Global Algae Innovations’ cultivation system at scale for the first time.
Algae holds many economic and environmental advantages over land-based crops. They grow and reproduce more rapidly and take up less land. Some algae species also have a richer nutritional profile compared to conventional bases, meaning that algal products have the potential to capture the higher end of the feed market.
Algal-based animal feeds is a growing market that Market Reports World estimates will reach $1.13 billion by 2025. The main obstacle to building a mass market for algal animal feed remains operational scaling, which the ISTC aims to tackle.