COCPIT piloting research into a new biofuel based on microalgae

Reducing the carbon footprint of the transport sector by developing a new certified biofuel for aviation from microalgae is the ambitious aim of the European COCPIT project led by the Energy Systems and Environment Department (DSEE) at IMT Atlantique (UMR CNRS 6144 GEPEA), which was officially launched in Nantes on 11 and 12 October for a 4-year period.

Supported by the European Commission to the tune of €5m, COCPIT stands for "scalable solutions optimisation and decision tool creation for low impact SAF production chain from a lIpid-rich microalgae sTrain", and brings together 10 academic and industrial partners* from 6 different countries.

Decarbonising the aviation sector

Biofuels are one of the preferred ways of decarbonising the aviation sector, as electrification is not an option. "But biofuels for aviation require specific properties such as high energy density and cold flow properties, two properties that rule out the use of biodiesel (vegetable oils), bioethanol (sugar or starch) or biomethane," points out Sary Awad, lecturer-researcher at the DSEE and coordinator of the COCPIT project, which also involves Yves Andrès, head of the DSEE, Clément Lacroix and Denys Grekov, both lecturers-researchers in the department.

Cocpit : optimisation de solutions extensibles à large échelle et création d’un outil d'aide à la décision pour concevoir une chaine de production de biocarburants durables depuis une souche de microalgues oléagineuse
Yves Andrès, head of the DSEE and Sary Awad, COCPIT project coordinator.

Innovative processes and bioprocesses

Since the 2010s, microalgae have offered an interesting alternative for producing biofuel for aviation, although the low yields obtained and the compatibility in the energy mix between biofuels and fossil fuels have prompted refiners to turn to other solutions.

"The aim of our project is therefore to find innovative approaches to reducing the production costs of growing microalgae in photobioreactors, improving processes throughout the chain (from the separation of lipids/proteins and other residues to the transformation and purification processes) and improving the quality of the feedstock, Finally, we need to identify ways of incorporating biofuels into the final blend in proportions that are compatible with the limits imposed by the European Parliament for 2050." explains Sary Awad.

A decision-making tool for optimised yields

COCPIT aims to deliver a solution for the production of sustainable biofuels for the aviation and maritime sectors from microalgae, while ensuring that circularity is respected throughout the production chain in the territory where it is implemented. And a decision-making tool designed to help investors choose the technologies best suited to their projects, based on an in-depth economic and environmental analysis.

"To reassure refiners about investing in research and infrastructure for the production of microalgae-based biofuels, we are going to create a decision-support tool that will enable them to simulate the profitability of a given infrastructure according to its configuration (geographical location, sunshine, proximity to reusable water sources, distance from an airport or port, availability of carbon dioxide sources, etc.) and the processing routes or approaches they wish to favour". The idea of the consortium players is to "de-risk" the refiners' investment.

Will COCPIT be able to break through the barriers of microalgae productivity and the carbon-free energy reserves they contain? The challenge has certainly been met.

COCPIT project partners

Published on 09.10.2023

by Pierre-Hervé VAILLANT

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