What’s your role within the EnAlgae project?
I am responsible for the design and operation of the Nottingham Microalgae Biorefinery pilot plant; a 16,000 litre photobioreactor (PBR) which is directly coupled to the emission stack of a gas turbine power station. I designed and constructed the facility in 2008-9 with funding from the UK Technology Strategy Board and it now operates as part of the EnAlgae Pilot Plant Network. I’ve also worked with the other macro and microalgae partners to develop standard operating procedures and best practices for algal cultivation, and to engage and promote our work to stakeholders.
What were you doing before you joined the project?
I have lots of experience in microalgal biotechnology and for the past 27 years have been designing and optimising PBRs for microalgal cultivation. As a biochemist, my microalgae postgraduate work began at Lancaster University in 1983 where I investigated the transciptomics of cell differentiation and nitrogen fixation in filamentous cyanobacteria. In 1985, I established Blue-Green Biotech and designed an artificially illuminated PBR system powered by biogas generated electricity from the anaerobic digestion of farm wastes. A few years later, I undertook an independent study of microalgal biotechnology and visited microalgal production facilities in California, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and India. In 1991, whilst working at Biotechna Ltd, I jointly developed the Biocoil PBR design and applied this to several applications. Then, in 1993, I worked with Professor Bill Oswald to develop the UK’s first microalgae based wastewater treatment system in collaboration with Severn Trent Water PLC. Since then, I have developed a new class of PBRs, employing photosynthetic biofilms, and have successfully applied the systems to intensive fish farm water recycling and latterly sewage treatment. I’ve been working with Plymouth Marine Laboratory since 2006 where I’m using my expertise and proprietary PBR technology.
Why are you interested in EnAlgae?
The project provides a unique opportunity to collaborate with EnAlgae partners and international stakeholders. Fostering public engagement is of key importance and the Nottingham facility provides an ideal venue for promoting our aims and objectives.
What are you working on at the moment?
Downstream processing of algal biomass from the Nottingham facility is the current focus, where multiple fractionation techniques are being applied to recover high value components from the biomass. Hydrothermal liquefaction of the biomass into biocrude oil and recoverable fertiliser has also been carried out. The development of molecular toolkits for cyanobacteria is an on-going priority.
Tell us something else about yourself!
Apart from being obsessed with growing microalgae, I also enjoy Landrover off-roading, walking on Dartmoor, learning to fly, cooking hot curries and travelling.