The investment site 3 of Interreg NWE ALG-AD project is located within the premises of Innolab CVBA, Oostkamp, Belgium (about 90 km North-West of Brussels). The pilot facility accommodated in a polycarbonate greenhouse comprises a bag (paper) filtration unit for digestate pre-treatment, a 2600-litre vertical reactor (VR) and a 600-litre horizontal bioreactor (HR) operated in batch mode for microalgae cultivation. The liquid fraction of digestate used as a substrate is collected from an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Pittem (20 km South of Oostkamp) that processes food and farm waste of plant-origin.
ALG-AD Investment site UGENT-INNOLAB in Belgium: General introduction and operation during the COVID-19 crisis
The commissioning and operation of the pilot facility with digestate as substrate started in mid-February. The UGent researchers and staff from Innolab supervised the tasks of inoculation, bioreactor operation, and sampling for quality control. The first experiences have been challenging due to bad weather conditions at the beginning of the year followed by the working restrictions laid due to the COVID-19 crisis from mid-March on. The restrictions reduced the involvement of UGent researchers at the pilot facility but regular contact with the Innolab team was maintained. With necessary safety measurements in place, the Innolab team has managed to keep both HR and VR running throughout the months of March – May 2020. Luckily, the used microalgae cultures are so robust that they could survive the tough growing conditions and restricted involvement of staff during these months. The first harvest of the biomass from HR was done with the help of an external company via centrifugation to produce an algal paste. In all, a good learning experience! The Investment site 3 team is now gearing up for the summertime, which will provide better availability of light and warmth and the possibility of regular visits to the facility.
“Luckily, the used microalgae cultures are so robust that they could survive the tough growing conditions and restricted involvement of operators during COVID-19 crisis,” said Jaisankar Seelam, a researcher from UGhent University, who is responsible of the cultivation of algae at this ALG-AD pilot.