The energy sector is a vital part of the Canadian economy. It offers tremendous opportunities for further development but its growth can only be sustainable when greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy are reduced. A dynamic research team at the University of Calgary, their industrial partners, and international collaborators are developing a cost-effective process for the capture of carbon dioxide from stack gases and its reconversion into methane – at scale. The process is based on algal biotechnology, which is one of the most promising avenues within bioenergy. Compared to the production of fuel crops by agricultural means, cultivation of algae has much higher potential yields per acre and closes nutrient (N and P) balances avoiding cumulative effects in the form of emissions of the powerful greenhouse gases nitrous oxide and methane. Compared to energy from the variable sources photovoltaics and wind, it offers the advantage that it yields a storable product (e.g. biomass or methane) compatible with carbon-based infrastructure such as pipelines and power plants.
Algae or cyanobacteria offer a natural mechanism to convert solar energy into a fuel compatible with our energy and transportation infrastructure. These microorganisms use the energy from the sun to take up CO2 for growth (Eq. 1). They can also store part of the assimilated CO2 in the form of lipids and polysaccharides, which increases their caloric value and these compounds can be extracted from the algae for the production of biodiesel.
We propose to use algae or cyanobacteria for the conversion of atmospheric CO2 into biomass which can subsequently be converted to methane, a liquid fuel or biomass pellets.
CO2 + H2O = CH2O (“biomass ”) + O2 (1)
This initiative involves a mutli-disciplinary team at the University of Calgary and international collaborators that includes: