Forty years ago, the Gregorio Marañón Institute in Madrid proposed setting up a microalgae cultivation plant in Almeria. A few years later, Pescanova presented a project for microalgae cultivation in the Cabo de Gata which didn't see the light. The University of Almeria, the Cajamar Experimental Station in Palmerillas, the chemist Ignacio Flores and companies such as Jarquil have gone back to this idea several times, but none of those initiatives came to anything.
Now, however, Endesa has finally announced the construction of an industrial plant for the cultivation and large-scale marketing of microalgae, grown in front of the beach of Carboneras.
For years, the power plant controlled by the Italian Enel has had an experimental plant attached. In it, a research project is currently underway. Its goal is to capture a small part of the carbon dioxide (C02) generated by the combustion activity of the thermal plant that was set up in Carboneras in 1979, and its transformation into organic matter.
One of the most noteworthy lines of research is one devoted to the industrial-scale production of marine microalgae to create food biocomponents for human consumption. A consortium of seven partners is involved in this project, including the Center for Biological Research, Ainia, Mar Cristal Marilum, Neoalgae MicroSeaweeds Products, Novatec and the University of Cádiz.
The production of microalgae, microorganisms that need a lot of light to grow, has already reached a volume of one ton of biomass in the Endesa plant. Microalgae are living organisms that capture more C02. In fact, life on Earth started with them. Roberto Andrés, director of the plant, says that "microalgae are not something for the future, but for the immediate present, even though its large-scale production still poses some difficulties."
Palmira Guarnizo is the technician monitoring the growth of these microorganisms. "We have about eight varieties here in Carboneras, both for fresh and salt water."
The microalgae stock is kept in a bright room where green and brown specimens rest. From one of these species, the Nannochloropsis, pigments are extracted that are used for tumor markers in hospitals. Other products extracted from it include Omega 3 and vegetable proteins, and it can be used even for biodiesel.