SABANA Project: Innovative Biofertilizers and Biopesticides from Microalgae

The Horizon2020 SABANA project was launched at December 2016 for the implementation an Excellence Center for Research and Development of Microalgae Biotechnology in Almería.

Image of paddle-wheel system used to move the microalgae cultures in raceway reactors. Its design and construction has been optimized as part of SABANA project.
Paddle-wheel system used to move the microalgae cultures in raceway reactors (design and construction optimized within SABANA project).

The objective of this project is to facilitate collaboration between companies and research centers for the development of commercial processes based on microalgae, with a special focus on the production of valuable compounds for agriculture and aquaculture, i. e. by integrating the treatment of wastewater in the process. SABANA project aims to produce sustainable and profitable biofertilizers and biopesticides from microalgae produced in sea water or even in wastewater. Likewise, it is intended to develop processes to obtain feed for aquaculture to increase its sustainability and profitability. This is a four-year project which comprises a the installation of a demonstration plant of developed technologies of about 5 ha of surface and a capacity production of 300 tonnes per year of microalgae and by-products.

SABANA project will generate better and safer sustainable fruits and vegetables for both consumers and the environment by producing new biofertilizers and biopesticides as alternative to the chemicals one currently used in agriculture. Also, it is intended to develop processes for the production of microalgae that can later be incorporated into aquaculture feedstuffs to reduce the use of fishmeal and fish oils that are increasingly scarce and unsafe due to the exhaustion of fisheries resources. Microalgae biotechnology can thus contribute to improving the quality of foods and, above all, to increasing its sustainability, and thus to safeguarding our resources.

SABANA first results and next steps

Image of bubble column photobioreactors used to produce inoculum of selected microalgae in DEMO R&D facility.
Bubble column photobioreactors used to produce inoculum of selected microalgae in DEMO R&D facility.

After 18 month of development the project achieved a very successful target, as recognized by external reviewers visiting the facilities at the University of Almeria (DEMO R&D). It was demonstrated that selected microalgae strains are really valuable for the production of biostimulants and biopesticides, as well as it is useful to increase the yield and safety of agricultural food production. Bioproducts may be obtained out of wastewater too: such effluent is used as culture medium, thus treated to recover nutrients contained within. Moreover, also microalgae biomass was proven useful to improve the quality of aquafeed currently used in aquaculture.These microalgae can be efficiently and sustainably produced in large open reactors, thus minimizing the energy consumption and the uptake of resources: operation in full re-circulation mode allows zero-emission-processes. The developed technologies for harvesting and processing were proven efficient at a large scale: the equipment provided from GEA Westfalia allow these operations at stable conditions with maximum yield.

The end products resulting from these activities have been tested in field trials both for agriculture and aquaculture applications. Concerning the agriculture sector, an increase of crops production (e. g. tomatoes, pepper) up to 10% has been measured, along with an additional reduction of fertilizers requirement of 12% due to the better efficiency of the uptake plants. The resulting biopesticides reduce up to 70% the prevalence of most frequent phytopatogens of greenhouse crops, especially Fungi, thus avoiding the necessity of using Cu-based pesticides which has been demonstrated to be toxic.

Image of freeze-dryer used on SABANA project to release samples of microalgae biomass produced in DEMO R&D facility. Equipment located at Foundation Cajamar.
Freeze-dryer used on SABANA project to release samples of microalgae biomass produced in DEMO R&D facility (LOCATED at Foundation Cajamar.

As far as it concerns for aquaculture applications, although including dry microalgae biomass in aquafeed has been previously proven to increase the sustainability and quality of aquafeed, the SABANA project demonstrated that an adequately-processed wet biomass provides better results. Thus, an increase up to 5% of microalgae biomass generate an increase in the growth rate and efficiency on feed conversion by fishes: nonetheless, the major effect is to healthier fishes, thus reducing the necessity of providing antibiotics.

Within the course of next months a complete 1-ha pre-commercial facility will be installed and operated by Biorizon Biotech (DEMO1). Along with such plant, a 5-ha facility will be built by FCC Aqualia (DEMO5). These demonstration plants will allow to obtain commercial products that will be evaluated in real markets, thus completing a development platform for microalgae biotechnology in Spain and Europe. The existing DEMO R&D facility, a “Training Center” to promote and facilitate the collaboration and development of skills of both companies and research institution, will support further developments on the field of microalgae biotechnology. Such Training Center offers different courses and online-access services to professionals and students. Experts as well as entrepreurs from all over the world will collaborate and work day by day in the fields of biology, engineering, computer science, agriculture, aquaculture.

About SABANA project

This project is funded by the European Union under the “Blue Growth” program, focused on the sustainable use of marine resources, and it is one of two European projects approved in this call. The project has a budget of 10.6 M € and it is led by the University of Almería. Project consortium comprises relevant companies as FCC Aqualia and Biorizon Biotech of Spain, Agricola Italiana Alimentaria, the Italian Consortium of Biogas of Italy and GEA WESTFALIA from Germany. as well as prestigious research groups such as the University of Milan in Italy, the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, the Karlsruher Institut Fuer Technologie in Germany, the Szechenyi Istvan University in Hungary and the Mikrobiologicky Ustav in the Czech Republic also participate in this project. The project has the support of the Fundacion Cajamar and of other institutions such as the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training Fishery, Food and Production Fisheries (IFAPA), the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning of the Regional Government of Andalusia, as well as the Subdelegation of the Government and the City of Almeria.

Further information on project website as well as in social networks @sabana_eu (on Facebook and Twitter).

Text by Gabriel Acién, Dpto. Ingeniería Química, Universidad de Almería.

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