Backed by EU financing, a Spanish water company this week produced its first crop of algae that will be used to manufacture biofuel as an alternative to the more controversial crop-based transport fuels.
EU efforts to limit the use of crop-based biofuels, increasingly seen as doing the planet more harm than good, won parliamentary backing on 11 July 2013 in what a top biodiesel company called "a very bad blow".
The vote in the European Parliament's environment committee will be followed by a plenary vote, expected in September. It will also require endorsement by EU member states, which are deeply divided on the issue.
Environmental campaigners said Thursday's vote marked progress towards more sustainable biofuels.
The "All-gas" project will cultivate fast-growing micro-algae by using the nutrients in wastewater and then by further processes generate biomethane which can be captured and used in transport fuel.
The biomass obtained from the algae crop showed high energy potential with a methane production capacity of 200-300 litres of gas per kilogramme of biomass processed, water company FCC Aqualia said.
"This original new approach to bioenergy means that Spain's 40 million population could power 200,000 vehicles every year with a single toilet flush," said Frank Rogalla, the project's coordinator and director of innovation and technology at FCC Aqualia.
Some €7.1 million of the scheme's initial €12-million development funding came from the EU, which is aiming for 10% of its energy used in transport to be derived from renewable sources by 2020.
However, development is still at a very early stage, there is no large-scale production in Europe and, along with the progress announced on Thursday (8 August), FCC Aquilia has also ruled out some of its earlier ideas for producing biodiesel after it proved unsustainable.
Experts say costs must be cut dramatically to make production commercially viable.
In June, French genome engineering company Cellectis said it had six months to prove the effectiveness of its technology to produce biofuel from algae if it is to move on with the investment with partner Total.
Assuming the Spanish project, launched in May 2011, continues on track, construction of a 10-hectare plant in Chiclana, southern Spain, is planned for completion by 2016, FCC Aqualia said.
- 10 Sept.: European Parliament expected to vote on legislation to limit the production of crop-based biofuels