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Shipboard photobioreactor for nutrient cycling, biomass production and pollutant sequestration

Octoply Ltd and University College London received a 2014 ABSIG SPARK Award to investigate a shipboard photobioreactor for nutrient cycling, biomass production and pollutant sequestration.

The shipping industry is a major and increasing contributor to global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that contribute to climate change. There is potential to scrub CO2 and NOx from ship exhaust using algae grown in water by using light and waste engine heat. However, ship exhaust differs from that of on-shore plants, and integration of photobioreactors on moving ships with space limitations poses technical and logistical challenges that are different from those for on-shore plants.

This project has helped to assess the feasibility of integrating a system of photobioreactors with existing shipboard systems. A growth model was developed for the biomass production simulation in an algal photobioreactor. The effect of nutrients, light and temperature on microalgae growth was simulated in gPROMS software and productivity of indoor cultivation in flat plate reactors was predicted. Different optimisations were completed to optimise the value of a different variable each time under the simultaneous control of the reactor depth, temperature, light intensity, dilution rate and nutrient concentrations. The resulted values of the control variables at each optimisation were different and also depended on the process time horizon. The ideal temperature estimated by the optimisation can evaluate the requirements of a heat exchanging unit which heats the photobioreactor.

A flowsheet for the on-board waste heat recovery process was developed using gPROMS. The system uses low grade heat from the ship engine to heat water for the radiators and photobioreactor operation. It can also store heat for the operation of the reactor during the off-work hours.

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