Kilbride Biotech - microalgae use flue gas for carbon mitigation

Carbon dioxide is emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels and is also produced at anaerobic digestion facilities by the burning of the methane produced by the process.

Let me first declare an interest - I act as a consultant to the Company on matters relating to microbiology.

The technology has been developed by the Baltimore-based company HY-TEK Bio. The CEO Bob Mroz and his colleagues have designed an innovative system that uses microalgae to convert the carbon dioxide in flue gas streams into microalgal biomass and oxygen. Both of these products can be sold into global markets. The process has been fully proven at a pilot plant in the US. 
Kilbride Biotech has formed a joint venture with HY-TEK Bio and holds an exclusive license for the technology for the UK and the rest of Europe.

The company currently uses a robust microalgae strain of Scenedesmus (HTB-1) that can thrive in atmospheres containing up to 85% CO2. The microalgae are naturally occurring and not genetically modified. They are grown in newly-designed vertical bioreactors that are cost effective and simple to install. They are made of laminated plastic interwoven with Kevlar mesh.   Innovative LED lighting is used to enhance microalgae growth, reduce power consumption, and thereby increase carbon mitigation.

Flue gas is injected into the bottom of the bioreactors in a way that enhances mixing, promotes the rapid transfer of carbon dioxide, and optimises the bubble velocity to ensure that all the CO2 is absorbed before the top of the tank is reached. The nutrient for the microalgae has been specially developed from poultry manure and is produced at low cost.

HY-TEK Bio cover photo- cropped

HY-TEK Bio CEO Bob Mroz describing their microalgae cultivation system at a visit by the US Algae Biomass Organization.

The plant is completely self-contained, is housed indoors and operates under optimal conditions at all times. It is independent of seasonal and daily variations in temperature and sunlight and operates 24 hours a day. The commercial version of the pilot plant will be modular and scalable to enable the technology to work with any size of carbon dioxide generating capacity from small engines on landfills, through EfW plants, to AD plants and power stations.

The rapidly produced microalgae are regularly harvested and valuable products extracted (the carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin) to provide a positive cash flow that rapidly repays the initial investment. To this can be added the income from the O2 produced in marketable quantities. The only gases reaching the top of the photobioreactors are nitrogen and oxygen. Standard equipment can be used to separate the oxygen. The microalgae biomass can also be sold as animal feed, as a feedstock in aquaculture, or as an organic fertiliser.

The HTB-1 strain was isolated by Dr. Feng Chen of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Baltimore from thousands of isolates from the Chesapeake Bay.

HY-TEK Bio - Feng Chen

Dr. Feng Chen of the University of Maryland displaying the laboratory-scale production of HTB-1

I think this highly optimised and controlled process is a major step forward in developing a commercially viable way of converting carbon dioxide into microalgal biomass. The technology is also potentially capable of growing a variety of different microalgae for a wide range of applications to make many different products.

Kilbride Biotech Ltd.’s Director Bill Elliott says, “I see this technology making a major contribution to carbon mitigation in the UK while at the same time producing valuable nutritional products.”

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