Microalgae-to-energy project a slimy surprise coup

THE best and simplest way to describe the microalgae-to-energy project is to think of it as taking slime and mixing it with coal to make fuel.

This is according to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) inventor and chemistry professor Ben Zeelie, who said they had kept quiet about the project for a long time and only decided to share it when they saw positive results last year.

It has taken four years for the project to get to this stage.

Zeelie said with Coalgae, they had the opportunity to cut out the entire biomass processing stage of making fuel.

“That entire stage is eliminated because what we do is mix the biomass and the fossil fuel upfront. We have one process that produces the blended fuel. I believe that in this way, we have actually leapfrogged the rest of the world in terms of biofuels production.

“The Coalgae is much more than just biofuel. We actually recover a huge waste. The industry in South Africa produces about 50 to 70 million tons of coal dust. With this technology we can recover that.”

He said the environmental overview of the project had enormous potential for the coal mining industry.

“It also adds value to not only the waste that we recover, but South Africa does not generally have high quality coal and with this technology we can upscale the quality of the coal to produce good quality grade coal.

“There are about 12 to 14 million people in South African who still use coal as the primary energy source in their homes and we know that coal is not the nicest thing to burn. With this technology, we have avenues to produce a much cleaner product, which will be much healthier for people to use in their homes.”

He said Coalgae was basically a combination of microalgae and coal.

“And it can have a range of coal/biomass ratios. What we choose depends on what we want to use the Coalgae for in the end.”

He said the product could have a wide range of applications, ranging from energy generation to liquid fuel production, and that everyone was learning together.

“We are developing new things here.” – Thulani Gqirana

Both had died after being shot in the head. – Lee-Anne Butler