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Embedded Circular Economy in Algal Manufacturing

The ASLEE project is using algal bio-production to rethink the rural economy and establish a new industry that simultaneously strengthens the circular economy. By enabling better use of stranded resources and distillery coproducts as well as using surplus renewable electricity in otherwise grid constrained fragile areas the manufacturing process creates added value services and products.

Remote, rural areas like the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, often have huge untapped renewable sources of electricity but the National Grid was never designed to transmit large amounts of power from diffuse sources located in remote areas. New renewable projects have either to pay for the local grid to be strengthened or face lengthy delays waiting for the District Network Operator (DNO) to upgrade the local grid. Grid weakness also means that existing renewable capacity is often constrained off, reducing income. In Orkney alone, it is estimated that local communities are losing around £2M annually due to problems of grid constraint. Algae have been shown to be tolerant of light intermittency, which means that algal production can provide a base demand justifying additional renewable generation while the submersible LED light sheets developed for the photobioreactor (PBR) system act as a transactive load for grid balancing. Electricity can be used at the most productive times, lowering the costs of algal production whilst also ensuring that electricity generation is maximised in constrained areas, preventing waste of capital resources such as wind turbines.

The Pandora PBRs developed in the ASLEE project can be assembled in modular arrays, which are adaptable and can be scaled to make effective and efficient use of local resources.  Furthermore, a leasing model for the innovative algal production system is proposed allowing for software and hardware support, rework and repair, ease of equipment management for the user and ensuring correct end of life re-use and recycling of materials.

Algal production can also reuse distillery co-products and directly incorporate the available CO2 at the manufacture site, thereby reducing waste and increasing carbon savings for other indigenous industries. The algae produced gives added value as it has many applications including: aquaculture hatchery feed; an additive in fish feeds; nutraceuticals; toxin standards; pigments and biofuels. The whole dynamic system can potentially provide new employment, income from the algal biomass sales, ancillary services to the electricity grid, a facility for contract research and increased carbon savings for other local enterprises.

Thus, using locally available renewable resources in this algal bioindustry results in “mutual benefits, multiple income streams and a positive cycle”- (The Circular Economy – A Wealth of Flows, Ken Webster, 2nd Edition, 2017).

ASLEE in the spotlight – collaborate and innovate

As part of the ASLEE project we have been shortlisted for “The Engineer: Collaborate to Innovate” competition under the category of Energy, Efficiency and Sustainability. This competition celebrates “the very best in UK collaborations and innovations in engineering“ and aims at finding and sharing truly innovative collaborations.

The ASLEE project is a two year project and we have finalised a very successful first year by achieving excellent results in the use of intermittency patters in algal cultivation as well as technical innovation. 1000 L photobioreactors have been designed and manufactured and are currently under production and testing phase. The use of algae as a transactive load to balance the grid has therefore achieved its proof of concept and with the start of the second year, the project team is building the UK’s largest photobioreactor array which will be located on the Ardnamurchan estate and will test the concept at an industrial scale.

It is definitely a very exciting time for the ASLEE team and we are looking forward to the award ceremony in this coming September and keeping up the good work!

You can have a look at the other shortlist candidates here. (

Xanthella Update – Pandora photobiorector prototype complete

The prototype Pandora photobioreactor has been constructed by Xanthella. Completion of the PBR required design and development of bespoke components and specialised engineering.  The prototype Pandora has a working volume of 600l (whereas the full-scale Pandora PBRs will have a working volume of 850l). The LED illumination is class leading and can be configured for different lighting regimes in terms of wavelengths, intensity and light periods. All of which are controlled by the Zeus II control system which also controls the temperature and pH.  The development has provided  accurate production costs which can be used for business modelling of the algal biomanufacturing process.

FAI Ardtoe Aquaculture Facility Update

Preparation work at the FAI Ardtoe aquaculture facility has been completed in readiness for the installation of the new Pandora photobioreactors (PBRs) planned for August 2017.  More than 60 m2 of working space has been created to accommodate the four 850l PBRs that form part of the pilot scale phase of the ASLEE project. The PBR room has been equipped with both a seawater and freshwater supply, along with new electric system and drainage channel.  Wide roll doors on the room have been fitted for ease of entry with the Pandora PBRs and access to spacious exterior area is available to allow for PBR cleaning and maintenance. Once installed the PBR array will be used to assess the scaled-up production of marine microalgae using intermittent power conditions.


New photobioreactor shed at Ardnamurchan Estate

A new site facility to house the pilot scale Pandora photobioreactor array is almost complete on the Ardnamurchan Estate. The  new “shed” structure and roof are in place and the floor is to be laid shortly.  The proposal is to install an array of 32 Pandora PBRs, being developed by project partner Xanthella Ltd , over the next 6 – 8 months. The algal growth system will then be used to assess scaled – up production of freshwater microalgae using renewable electricity generated on site.

Latest ASLEE news at Scottish Renewables Conference on 21st June 2017

We are very pleased to be invited to speak at the Scottish Renewables ‘Storage and Systems’ Conference on June 21st at Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow, G4 0BA. The conference will consider the impacts and opportunities arising  from the transition to a “smart, flexible energy system“, and how energy systems and storage can contribute. Click here for full details.

Join us to hear the latest ASLEE project developments in session4  – Technology and Project Speed Update.  The session examines key technology and projects across Scotland and will feature some of the industry’s leading lights and discuss the latest developments.

Chair: Stephen-Mark Williams, Director, Energy Technology Partnership


  • Alan Mason, Principal Consultant, TNEI
  • Lynda Mitchell, Manager, ALIenergy from The ASLEE Project
  • David Aldrich, Sales and Marketing Manager, Denchi Power
  • Les King, Director  -Technology, Policy and Liaison, Doosan Babcock

Click here to view full conference programme. Join us on twitter @ASLEEproject16 @ScotRenew @ALIenergy13



Evolving LED technology: enhancing microalgal production

Microalgae are extremely interesting organisms that are able to produce a wide variety of biochemical compounds such as pigments, lipids, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals (Gupta, et al., 2015). These chemicals have bioactive properties that can be used in several industries and are being increasingly studied and exploited.

As large-scale production of microalgae becomes more common, the need for cost-effective systems and efficient culturing techniques has become more important than ever. The potential and range of application of microalgae include the production of aquaculture feed, food supplements, cosmetics and nutraceuticals (Schulze, et al., 2014). Algae pigments are used in the food and cosmetic industry as natural food colorants. Additionally, certain strains of algae such as Spirulina and Chlorella are commercialized in the form of food supplements due to their overall health benefits. This increasing demand in production has led to a parallel development of both photobioreactors (PBR) and available light sources.

Artificial light sources for use in microalgal production systems include fluorescent lamps and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Historically, fluorescent tubes were widely used because of their wide light spectrum. However, recent findings show that fluorescent lights do not provide the right wavelength for microalgal photosynthesis due to the variability between different algal strains. In contrast, LEDs are highly flexible light sources  – they can be produced very cheaply and can be manufactured with a wide variety of wavelengths and desired intensities. LEDs have also become increasingly energy efficient over the years, with white-light LEDs in particular having efficiencies of up to 50%. Since microalgae depend on a “balanced mix of wavelengths for normal growth“ (Schulze, et al., 2014), LEDs are currently the best light source available.

Within the ASLEE project we are using the highly efficient LEDs in the form of encapsulated light sheets that are fully submerged in the microalgal photobioreactor. Numerous light sheets are included in the pilot scale PBRs to ensure effective distribution of light to the growing microalgae. The light sheets are powered by excess renewable energy at source, which not only further reduces the cost of producing the microalgae, but also provides a demand side management and grid balancing service. The added value income stream is made possible by a newly developed combination of Xanthella and VCharge technologies that automatically adjusts the photobioreactor lighting in rapid response to grid frequency.

By utilising the rapidly evolving LED technology, the ASLEE project is able to reduce the cost of microalgal biomanufacturing whilst at the same time offering a radical and exciting solution to grid constraints and, potentially, overcome curtailment of renewable energy projects. That’s a bright solution!

Join us – up and coming events for April and May

CARES conference

26th and 27th April 2017

at The Golden Lion Hotel, King Street, Stirling

ASLEE project partners will be amongst the delegates discussing the Scottish Government’s energy strategy consultation and the key role of community energy.

Click here to view full details


All Energy Exhibition and Conference – 10th and 11th May 2017

SEC, Glasgow


Click here for full event details and delegate registration



Making Connections at Empowering Rural Industries Conference

Around 120 delegates joined us for a very successful and highly engaging day at the Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow on 20th March. Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal of Strathclyde University, welcomed everyone to the fantastic university venue where industry, public sector, academia and research all connect. He spoke of the energy trilemma ( and “quadrilemma”) and the potential opportunities. He also expressed his keenness to examine, as chair of the Energy Technology Partnership, how he could support the ASLEE project.

The welcome was followed by a keynote address from Katherine White, head of the Strategy and Projects Unit within the Energy and Climate Change directorate at the Scottish Government,  outlining Scottish Government’s draft energy strategy and its underlying themes, goals and priorities.   

The diverse challenges facing rural economies were reflected in the range of presentations in session 1. Talks from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Centre for Remote and Rural studies at UHI, were delivered along with industry perspectives from Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN), Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) and Scottish Craft Distillers Association.

After a refreshment break, a number of the ASLEE project partners gave an excellent overview of the project achievements over the last 10 months. These included the technical and biological findings, the proposed economic model and the potential for the future. A long networking lunch then allowed delegates to interact and engage with the speakers and exhibitors in the exhibition area. Details of the exhibiting organisations can be found here.

In the afternoon, we heard about other local energy innovations and initiatives, including production and use of hydrogen; anaerobic digestion and bioenergy; energy storage technologies; distribution network management, and the Eden Campus facility at St Andrews University.

The day ended with talks and a panel discussion on policy and future opportunities. The panel, chaired by former MSP Mr Jim Mather included Paul Hudman from IBioIC, Scott Bryant of Zero Waste Scotland, Jennifer Ramsay from Local Energy Scotland and Douglas McKenzie, CEO of Xanthella.

Summing up at the end of the day, Mr Mather reflected on the success of bringing together different perspectives and stressed the importance of building on the collaborative conversations that had been started.

All presentations from the conference are available here – click on the speakers name within the conference programme.

ASLEE project would like to thank HIE for their support of the event, and all the speakers, exhibitors and delegates for their contributions, questions and discussions.

Don’t let the conversation end, follow us on twitter and facebook

Major funding granted to CyanoSol, Robert Gordon University

The CyanoSol group at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, are delighted to announce funding of approximately £1.4 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in a Global Challenge for “In-reservoir destruction of Blue-Green algae and their toxins”. CyanoSol director Professor Linda Lawton will be principal investigator for the new project, working with Professor Peter Richardson at Queens University, Belfast and Professor John Irvine and Dr Paul Conner of St. Andrews University.  

CyanoSol aims to develop sustainable exploitation of the diverse biosynthetic capabilities of blue-green algae (Cyanobacteria) and are involved in internationally renowned research into the environmental impact and monitoring of toxins and other problematic metabolites, including taste and odour compounds produced by the algae.

The group directed by Professor Linda Lawton and deputy director Dr Christine Edwards has a dedicated algal production facility, with state of the art purification and analytical suite and more than 50 years experience working with bioactive natural products from plants and microbes. Current projects include a wide collaboration network (at national and international level) with organisations including: Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC); National Collection of Industrial Food and Marine Bacteria (NCIMB); Xanthella;  Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas); EPSRC; SuperGen Bioenergy Hub; Enzo; Cyanocost.  

Current CyanoSol projects include:

  • Photo-Catalytic production of bioethanol
  • Production of high value bioactive compounds
  • Sustainable Exploitation of Algae
  • Novel Bioactives from Streptomyces