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Neste Oil ups algae research for biodiesel

January 31, 2013

Neste Oil’s field trials in Andalusia, Spain

Algae have been grown in tubular photobioreactors made out of plastic tubing in Neste Oil’s field trials in Andalusia, Spain.

Neste Oil, ranked the world’s fourth most sustainable company on The Global 100 list at the World Economic Forum in Davos, has been investigating the suitability of algae for its renewable fuels production for some years; its research showing that algae oil represents a suitable raw material for producing its NExBTL renewable diesel.

Although algae cannot yet be cultivated on an industrial scale, they appear to be a promising future renewable raw material, according to company researchers who concur that the microscopically small organisms offer high oil yields, and cultivation does not require potable water, as they can be grown in salt water or wastewater. The developers at Neste also appreciate that algae also do not compete for land areas with food production, so they can be cultivated on land unsuitable for farming.

“Algae represent an exceptionally good alternative as a raw material in terms of their greenhouse gas balance, which makes research in the area very attractive,” says Pauliina Uronen, an algae researcher at Neste Oil.

Neste Oil is collaborating with a number of Finnish and international organizations in the algae research area. A research project was launched with the Marine Research Centre of the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) in 2011 to test the lipid production capacity of different types of algae and analyze how adjusting growing conditions can optimize the quality and quantity of these lipids. Neste Oil is also a member of major international algae research consortia based in Australia (SBRC) and the Netherlands (AlgaePARC).

Neste Oil has carried out its own field trials in Andalusia, in southern Spain, focused on studying how algae behave and how they can be cultivated outside the laboratory. “Trials like this can reveal a number of surprising issues that are not addressed by laboratory work, as field trial conditions cannot be controlled in the same way. How different times of the day can affect algae growth is a good example of this,” said Pauliina Uronen. “Spain is ideal for algae cultivation because of the high amounts of sunlight.”

The projects in Andalusia were conducted in co-operation with Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

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