Biotechnology solutions in the circular economy

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30 September, 2020

Biotechnology has become an essential cornerstone in the development of circular economy solutions. A perfect example of this is the project that has been developed by Planctonid Environnement (PE), a company that specialises in the cultivation of micro-algae for innovative bioengineering processes. This project was the winner of the COP 25 Start-Up Europe Awards in the water category.

PE is a French company with a subsidiary in Spain, which has created a bioremediation service, through which a protein-rich co-product is produced by means of the cultivation of microalgae in photobioreactors.

How can biotechnology contribute to the transition towards a circular economy?

The circular solution that PE has developed consists of a biological method for the treatment of industrial wastewaters. PE’s solution looks to prevent the eutrophication of effluents (the accumulation of organic waste in aquatic ecosystems, which can result in the proliferation of certain algae) in natural waters. PE is currently developing a project for the treatment of the industrial effluents that are discharged by the fertilizer manufacturer, YARA France.

This solution eliminates nitrogen and phosphates from wastewater in an energy-efficient manner, and it is also worth mentioning, that, given its lower energy consumption, it is a more economically competitive solution than other conventional ones.

What are the challenges that biotechnology is facing in the treatment of wastewaters?

Many different circular economy solutions exist, however, often when we look at ways in which we can improve a business’s profitability, the existence of co-products and by-products is fundamental. For example, a wastewater treatment service could be combined with the production of protein-rich algal biomass, which could subsequently be sold as feed for use in industries such as aquafarming.

PE has emphasised the importance of finding a market for this co-product, as this could prove fundamental when assessing the project’s economic viability.

The variability of the nitrogen and phosphate content in industrial effluents is a common problem.  As a result, cultivating microalgae can be quite a complicated task, meaning that it is important to closely monitor the cultivation conditions.

How is C-VoUCHER helping to develop a circular business model?

PE is one of the companies that has been selected to participate in C-VoUCHER’s Circularity Programme. The company is working with Design Spot in order to develop a control interface that will facilitate the control system’s operating capacity. According to its president, thanks to the company’s collaboration with the designer in-residence, everyone at PE boasts a much greater understanding of all of the different aspects that must be taken into consideration, and, likewise, they have gained insight into exactly how all of the project’s components interact.

The company has its sights set on the future and it is working to develop a reliable automation system that will enable it to better deal with the variabilities in the profiles of effluents that are to be treated.

As a result of these developments, the company will be able to increase its water treatment capacity, making it possible to do more with less.