Algal biofuel technology in the state of Qatar

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It is our responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions and develop sustainable, environmentally-friendly biofuels for the future.” Mr. Hareb Al Jabri

 

In 2010, Qatar University initiated an algal biofuel project funded by Qatar Airways, and Qatar Science and Technology Park with a 3-year budget of USD 12 million. Completion of the first phase of the project, led by Prof. Dr. Malcolm Potts, is expected by the end of 2013. The main goals of this initial phase were to obtain candidate biofuel microalgae and test their performance outdoors in Qatar’s climatic conditions.

The state of Qatar is situated east of the Arabian Peninsula surrounded with a 1000km coastline within the Arabian Gulf. The landscape is mostly desert with less than 100mm annual rainfall. While the average winter daytime temperatures are around 20 ◦C; maximum temperatures are observed in the summer with average values around 45 ◦C, which altogether provide a suitable environment for mass culture of microalgae.

The project started off by isolating native microalgae from the desert and marine environments of Qatar which led to the establishment of the Qatar University Culture Collection of Cyanobacteria and Microalgae (QUCCCM). The culture collection currently holds over 200 uni-algal freshwater and marine cultures (Figure 1).

Microalgae culture plates in a growth chamber at QUCCCM

Figure 1: Microalgae culture plates in a growth chamber at QUCCCM

The coastline surrounding the State of Qatar is especially shallow and has salinities ranging from 45 parts per thousand (ppt) to 200 ppt, which has enabled the researchers to isolate unique microalgal strains with tolerance to extreme environmental conditions. In addition to the study of their growth characteristics, these microalgae have been subjected to extensive biochemical and genetic characterization. Genomic sequencing of selected strains is in progress at Qatar University.

Small scale outdoor growth trials were performed in 400 liter raceway tanks and best performing strains are now grown in 25,000 liter ponds located at the Qatar University Farm Demo Plant (Figure 2), to study growth characteristics, effects on biochemical composition, harvesting and conversion into biofuels.

Dr. Malcolm Potts, the principal investigator, and Dr. Probir Das of the biofuel team and chief scientist involved in outdoor growth are next to one of the 25,000 liter raceway ponds of the demo plant

Figure 2: Dr. Malcolm Potts, the principal investigator, and Dr. Probir Das, of the biofuel team and chief scientist involved in outdoor growth, next to one of the 25,000 liter raceway ponds of the demo plant

“The state of Qatar has a combination of unique characteristics for a sustainable algal biofuel technology. In addition to suitable climatic conditions, Qatar has ample supply of waste CO2 generated by natural gas, oil and desalination industries. This provides a great opportunity to capture CO2 for algal growth, which is the plan for the second phase of the project”, said the PI of the project Dr. Potts.

Similarly, Mr. Hareb Al Jabri of Qatar University, the manager of the project, said: “It is our responsibility to reduce CO2 emissions and develop sustainable, environmentally-friendly biofuels for the future. The state of Qatar has taken a big step towards this goal with our project”.

The Qatar Biofuel team is currently planning the second phase of the project with a goal to produce one barrel of liquid biofuel per day.

The above photographs were taken by the author.

Dr Mete Yilmaz, Qatar University, Aquatic Biosystems Section Editor.

http://www.aquaticbiosystems.org/