MEWLIFE project aims to demonstrate the environmental benefit and economic feasibility of an innovative approach to produce microalgal biomass in an integrated phototrophic and heterotrophic cultivation system using preconcentrated olive oil wastewaters as carbon source for growing algae, thus contributing to waste reuse and valorization.
The project has three main objectives.
Re-using and valorizing wastewaters from olive oil production: wastewaters from olive oil plants are used as carbon source for algae cultivation, thus increasing biomass productivity, limiting the costs associated with nutrients input, and at the same time treating wastewaters by reducing the initial organic load of recalcitrant compounds (polyphenols). These wastewaters, largely diffuse in the whole Mediterranean Basin, cannot be treated in conventional biological depuration plants due to the toxic effect of antioxidants on active sludge. In order to overcome the limit of seasonal availability of olive oil waste, a pretreatment of these wastewaters is included giving an organic-rich concentrate to be used in microalgae cultivation during the whole year.
Producing microalgal biomass: dried microalgae suitable for applications in nutraceutics but also exploitable in bio-plastic field. Microalgae formulations are already in the market in different countries (Japan, China, USA, Germany) for feed and food applications with an annual turnover of 80 million of US$. The biomass produced in the MEWLIFE project will be tested for nutraceutical applications by potential stakeholders evaluating the benefit due to cultivation using antioxidant-rich medium. In addition, samples of fractions extracted from the biomass (starch and other carbohydrates and lipid fraction) will be tested for the production of biopolymers, as alternative source to crops.
Reduce cost associated with algae cultivation: the proposed integrated cultivation system (small phototrophic section for inoculum production + extended heterotrophic section for biomass production) will allow reducing at minimum level the costs associated with the algae cultivation in large scale applications, which is mainly due to the high investment costs for photobioreactors. By limiting the first step of algae cultivation in the phototrophic system just to the production of the inoculum needed for the next heterotrophic section, a reduction of the capital costs associated with large scale photobioreactors system will be achieved.