UK firm launches 'Algem' algae photobioreactor technology

By Chris Hanson | May 15, 2013

U.K.-based Algenuity launched its latest lab-scale photobioreactor, Algem, in Europe and Middle East markets May 15.

The Algem, a collaborative project between Spicer Consulting Ltd.’s engineers and Algenuity’s researchers, enables researchers to run simultaneous and comparative algal growth studies in two 1-liter flasks. Andrew Spicer, director and chief research scientist at Algenuity, said the decision to build the unit around the flask was the biggest challenge, because it had to incorporate controlled lighting and temperature environments, mixing capabilities and various sensors while still being user-friendly to the average researcher. He added the reason to use flasks in the unit stems from researchers feeling more comfortable using them, plus flasks are relatively inexpensive to replace if broken.  

Unlike other lab-scale photobioreactors, Spicer explained, the Algem comes standard with three light wavelengths from light-emitting diodes (LED), red, white and blue. The lighting system is able to simulate lighting cycles, in addition to pulse effects and lighting blends. “The software that goes along with the system is able to create sophisticated blends of those three wavelengths.” Spicer said, “So if you wanted to try to understand how you can use artificial lighting to create optimal growth conditions, for instance for high value products from algae, you can do that.”

Another feature that separates Algem from its competitors, said Spicer, is the unit’s geographical modeling system. Michael Yates, business development representative for Algenuity, said the system has a meteorological database that can recreate light and temperature conditions for any given month for almost any location in the world. Spicer added the database, created from statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization, is used to create a lighting and temperature profile that the machine interprets to create more natural conditions. “The user is able to actually drag a cursor over a world map and pull up photo periods, in other words a light profile, that will recapitulate a site on the globe,” Spicer said.

The Algem was beta tested at four academic research labs and a private company. Spicer said the equipment has been very popular with universities; however, there is interest in private companies throughout the U.K. and Europe involved in algal research and development. Yates expects demand to increase due to the growing momentum and enthusiasm from prospective users.

Although the U.S. and worldwide launch will occur fall 2013, Spicer mentioned they have completed quotes for customers outside of Europe. “We are offering the product at what we believe is a fair price that won’t stretch budgets,” Yates said. 

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