Algae are little climate saviors. Already in their natural state, they are extremely efficient photosynthesizers and release ten times more carbon dioxide (CO₂) absorbed like land plants. In automated bioreactors with appropriate sensors and control technology, the efficiency of algae can be increased to a hundred times the efficiency of land plants. This shows that they have significant potential in the climate-neutral circular economy. With the PhotoBionicCell research project, Festo presents a possible approach to the industrial biotechnology of the future.
Our world is changing like never before. The world’s population is growing and the consequences of climate change are already being felt. We will only have a livable future if people, animals and flora live in harmony. That is why Festo considers the bioeconomy to be the economic system of the future.
“Our aim is to significantly contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of today’s and future generations with the large-scale cultivation of biomass and the automatic technology we have developed”
says Dr. Elias Knubben, vice president of corporate research and innovation.
Biology as inspiration
The bionics team is now looking more closely at photosynthesis. At Hannover Messe 2022, Festo will present the PhotoBionicCell project as an example of industrial biology. With the innovative photobioreactor, algae can be grown automatically and their growth can be controlled. Through photosynthesis in their chloroplasts, algae cells convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and chemical energy carriers or recyclable organic materials. With Festo’s automation technology, such as controlled, optimal gassing and mixing, algae can capture hundreds of times more carbon dioxide than land plants such as trees or corn.
Bio-recyclable materials for climate-neutral end products
Algae produce fatty acids, color pigments and surfactants as part of their metabolic processes. These can be used as raw materials for the production of medicines, food, plastics or cosmetics. Unlike petroleum-based products, bio-based end products are usually biodegradable and can always be recycled in a climate-neutral way in line with the general circular economy. For example, it takes about one liter of petroleum to produce a bottle of shampoo. If this bottle is burned after use, an additional three kilograms of CO₂ will be released, making your CO₂ balance negative. If an algae-based bioplastic is used instead, they absorb three kilograms of CO₂, which is released again when the bottle is disposed of. Thus, the cycle is balanced.
Efficient photosynthesis in the high-tech bioreactor
In their work on PhotoBionicCell, the researchers focused on cultivating the blue-green algae Synechocystis. These produce color pigments, omega-3 fatty acids and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). Once this PHB is extracted, it can be processed by adding other materials and used, for example, in 3D printing.
One of the biggest challenges of bioreactors is how to accurately determine the amount of biomass. Festo relies on this quantum technology sensor supplied by the start-up company Q.ANT. This provides real-time accurate information on the growth of organizations. Using microfluidics – for example, pumps that precisely regulate small amounts of liquid – the algae are automatically and continuously pumped into the quantum sensor. The quantum sensor can optically analyze individual cells, so the amount of biomass can be precisely determined. It also uses artificial intelligence (AI) to examine cell viability. Only then is it possible to predict the events of the process, react to them, and intervene in a controlled manner.
Software solutions for the digitized laboratory
So far, many laboratory analyzes have been done manually. This is slow and can result in errors. In the future, the automation of such laboratory systems will allow all necessary data to be read directly and in real time.
To achieve this, PhotoBionicCell uses proprietary software. The operator interface enables the display of several photobioreactors with the current data situation and live images. Parameter changes and corresponding evaluations can be carried out around the clock and even remotely. Users can thus react to changes in the bioreactor at any time, so for example they can start harvesting the “crop” at the optimal time.
Artificial intelligence for further optimization
Festo’s developers also use artificial intelligence to evaluate the data. This allows the optimization of the bioreactor for the propagation of algal cultures or the maintenance of defined growth parameters with minimal energy investment.
Source: technokrata by www.technokrata.hu.
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