PCV, QIBEBT: Proving And Harnessing Microalgae’s Potential

Projects: PCV - Grenoble, France (1); Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology - Qingdao, China (2) 
Partners: CEA, CNRS (1); Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (2)
 

 

2010
Total commits to microalgae research

As part of its research on biomass, Total is carrying out several projects on microalgae. These microorganisms have several advantages. Thanks to photosynthesis, which uses sunlight as a source of energy and CO2 as a source of carbon, microalgae are able to convert CO2 directly into lipids – that is, into oils – which can in turn be transformed into useful molecules with a small carbon footprint. 

Microalgae can be cultivated on non-agricultural land and can attain levels of oil yield that are as much as 30 times greater than those of oilseed crops. They have many potential applications in fuels and chemicals. 

To accelerate research on how to farm and produce microalgae on an industrial scale, we have entered into partnerships with research institutions such as the PCV cell and plant physiology laboratory in Grenoble (a CEA/CNRS/University of Grenoble/Inra mixed research unit), China’s Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT), Wageningen University (European Magnificent project) and Qatar University.

Optimizing Microalgae Production

The microalgae sector is still in the R&D phase for the production of fuel and other commodities for the chemicals industry. For this reason, our teams, along with those of the CEA and the CNRS, have designed a joint research program to accelerate progress on the selection and optimization of microalgae strains, the first condition for their industrial use.

The quality of the strains used is of critical importance for their mass production. Out of the million known species of algae, 30,000 strains have been identified for their oil-rich content and only some ten strains are currently being utilized. Our research is therefore focused on selecting robust strains with high-oil content. Once chosen, these strains are optimized in order to be usable on an industrial scale. 

Bringing together teams from the CEA, the CNRS and Total, the research is being carried out at the PCV cell and plant physiology laboratory, a unit of the Institut de Recherches en Sciences et Technologies (iRTSV) at CEA Grenoble. 

In addition to the research underway in France, we are working in China with the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT), whose objective is to identify the enzymes best suited to the production of biofuels and products for the chemical industry.

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In line with its ambition to become the responsible energy major, Total is strengthening its commitment to microalgae research. Although still in the exploratory stage, this sector could have long-term development potential for fuels and the chemical industry.

Laurent Fourage
Phototrophs Project Manager, Biofuels division, Refining & Chemicals