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Highlands and Islands Enterprise supporting Empowering Rural Industries Conference

Highlands and Islands Enterprise is pleased to support the Empowering Rural Industries Conference being held next week. bringing together a diverse range of stakeholders, this event will stimulate conversations particularly in the context of building sustainability and community resilience in the rural economy.

Join the conversation on the 20th March 2017 at the Technology and Innovation Centre in Glasgow @asleeproject16 @HIE @European Marine Science Park @LECF


For other information click on European Marine Science Park


ASLEE on display at Local Energy Challenge Fund Showcase 2017

There was a great turn out for the Local Energy Scotland showcase event on 15th February at The Academy in Glasgow.

The ASLEE exhibition stand was well attended and Xanthella’s Dr Douglas McKenzie presented a brief overview of the ASLEE project. The event was a great opportunity to meet the other project teams currently supported by the Local Energy Challenge Fund.  All presentation slides from the event can be found here.

More information on Scottish Government’s Local Energy Challenge fund is available here.


Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on a Scottish Energy Strategy which sets out a vision and strategy for the future of energy for the period to 2050. The draft Energy Strategy is composed as a free-standing companion to the draft Climate Change Plan – designed to provide a long term vision to guide detailed energy policy decisions over the coming decades.

The consultation document sets out the aspiration to create a strong low carbon economy – sharing the benefits across communities, reducing social inequalities, and creating a vibrant climate for innovation, investment and high value jobs.

The Scottish Government has previously committed long-term funding to develop local energy systems, through a number of initiatives, such as the Local Energy Challenge Fund which has provided support for the ASLEE project.

A key element of the strategy is the continued support for local and community scale renewable energy projects which deliver sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits to communities throughout Scotland. Through the implementation of the Scottish Energy Strategy, the Scottish Government has reiterated its commitment to supporting the development of local energy economies as part of a varied and proportionate response to the challenges brought by the transformation of Scotland’s energy system. ASLEE aspires to make a significant contribution to the success of this commitment.

The consultation closes on 30 May 2017 and if you wish to comment you can read the full consultation document here:


Empowering Rural Industries – Don’t miss out on a place – Free registration

Join us for an interactive day of discussion and presentations from a cross-sector delegation.

Speakers will debate on the challenges faced by Scotland’s rural economy; how innovative solutions can realise renewable energy potential and shape local bioindustry; and the opportunities for future energy innovations.

Check the latest programme

Only a few weeks to go before registration closes

Follow the ASLEE project story on Facebook

Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust funding awarded

Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

ASLEE partner, ALIenergy is delighted to receive funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust’s Sustainable Future Programme, to help spread the word about the ASLEE project as a radical and exciting new solution to electric grid constraints and economic viability issues for renewable energy projects – using a circular economic model to overcome intermittent energy supply issues and provide a grid balancing service, coupling electricity generation with an algal manufacturing process – whilst also creating a valuable product from local waste streams.

ALIenergy representatives Lynda Mitchell and Carole Shellcock traveled to London to meet with the charity trustees, who commented that they were particularly inspired by the potential this project has to address multiple issues.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust – Sustainable Future Programme aims to tackle anthropogenic climate change which is threatening the well-being of humanity. Technological change is essential but not sufficient; fundamental changes to economic models will also be required. Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is deeply concerned about climate change and its effects, and believes that our care for future generations morally compels us to play a part in tackling it.

If you would like to hear more about the ASLEE project, or would like to invite us to speak at your event or organisation, please get in touch.

For more information visit  Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

The Beauty of Algae

Crùbag….inspired by the beauty and hidden secrets of the ocean.

Crùbag believes marine science is beautiful. Using the evocative power of design, Crùbag makes luxury scarves and stunning textiles inspired by the beauty and hidden secrets of the marine environment. Each piece tells a story about the oceans, cutting-edge research and current environmental issues. It became our mission to portray these tiny windows of wonders that scientists open and share the passion and love we have for the sea. Our products are beautiful, tangible and made with love and craftsmanship. We use only natural fabrics and manufacture to very high environmental standards.

Crùbag’s founder and designer, Jessica Giannotti, uses her background in marine science to tell the stories and inspiration behind these beautiful designs. With a design studio at the Scottish Marine Institute, on the beautiful West Coast of Scotland, Crùbag draws constant inspiration from it’s setting. We also donate a portion of our sales to scientific institutions to support continued research in marine science.

The Gachon Collection

Crùbag’s first collection, the Gachon Collection, was inspired by research carried out by Dr Claire Gachon, from the Scottish Association for Marine Science. Claire is particularly interested in algae-pathogen interactions and the effects of pathogen infection on the ecosystem and in regulating biodiversity. Algae can suffer from parasites and diseases just like terrestrial plants, understanding the algae-pathogen relationship is an important area of research for ecosystem functioning and aquaculture production (supporting health, food, chemical and biofuel industries). The designs within the Gachon collection illustrate the beauty of the algae and the pathogens and show how the natural environment works. Early development stages of the collection were funded by Natural Environment Research Council allowing us to create a comprehensive science outreach package to go with our luxurious textiles. With the success of the Gachon collection, we experienced how giving people beautiful products that they can touch and wear inspires new conversations about science and brings awareness of complex ecological issues into daily life.

The Flora Collection

The Flora collection was inspired by research on harmful algal blooms and the development was kindly sponsored by the International Society for the Study of Harmful Algae. The objective was to spark interest in micro-algae, specifically harmful algal blooms (HABs), with the creation of beautiful and unusual textile items. Microscopic marine algae exhibit a wealth of shapes, colours and textures which lend themselves exceptionally well to textile design. HABs occur when the normally benign growth of algae becomes detrimental to humans or other organisms. This project focused on the five mechanisms in which a HAB can be detrimental, specifically: (1) damage to fish gills; (2) water discolouration; (3) anoxia; (4) slime or foam formation and (5) biotoxin production.

Crùbag’s abstract and artistic depictions of the research science connects people on a subjective and emotional level; whereas the science-outreach materials (printed and online) ignite excitement, curiosity and encourage a more cognitive and analytical response. These two aspects of our work combined with the tangible feel of the textiles and the three-dimensional form of the skillfully crafted accessories encourage an overall positive response similar to that evoked by charismatic species. People tend to attach and care about what they know. We bring marine research and scientists closer to peoples’ minds and hearts. The luxurious products make our customers feel unique and inspired. Crùbag has developed a new sense of luxury more attuned to our current Zeitgeist. Come and explore with us!

We are launching a new website with lots of content and a new online shop very soon. In the meantime feel free to get in touch –

Food for thought

Is salmon on your Christmas menu?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are essential for health. The nutrients are required for a number of fundamental processes in the body such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, we must get them through our diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many other health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke, and reduction of inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. In the wild these fish obtain the omega-3 fatty acids from the marine algae on which they feed. Farmed fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. In aquaculture the fish obtain the omega-3 fatty acids from the feed they are given, which contains fish meal and oils from smaller oily fish like anchovies. However, dwindling wild fish stocks are impacting the availability of fish oils and increasing the price. Consequently less fish oil is being added into the fish feed. A recent study from Stirling University indicated that the amount of omega-3 in farmed salmon has fallen by half in the last 5 years (

As the demand for farmed salmon and other fish increases globally, finding alternative sources of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids is essential and attention is increasingly focusing on micro-algae. In the oceans, micro-algae are the primary producers of omega-3 fatty acids, along with other beneficial unsaturated long-chain fatty acids. Cultivation of fatty acid producing micro-algae for incorporation into farmed fish feed could reduce the demand for fish oils and fish meal from wild pelagic fish stocks and enhance the algal manufacturing industry. Denmark-based aquaculture feed company, BioMar, have already begun production of fish feed which includes omega-3 oils from micro-algae whereby increasing sustainability in the aquaculture market. BioMar feed is used in production of one fifth of the farmed fish in Europe and South and Central America. (

One area of focus of the ASLEE project is to examine the economic viability of using local renewable electricity for phototrophic cultivation of micro-algae, greatly reducing production costs. In a few years’ time your Christmas salmon might contain omega-3 fatty acids produced right here in Scotland. 

Energy Intermittency: Challenge and Opportunity

We live in an ever-changing world: the rotation of our planet, the effects of tides and the patterns of winds and rainfall means that each day tends to be different from the last. Human activity changes daily and over the seasons. This is reflected in variations in demand for energy at different time scales and the availability of energy also varies, crucially in the case of renewable energy. This leads to intermittency both in supply and demand for energy.

The ASLEE project aims to use the production of micro-algae to smooth out the intermittencies of supply and demand by providing demand side management that can be used to match the patterns of intermittency coming from other users and from energy production. Algae use light to provide energy that in turn is used to fix carbon dioxide and turn it into sugars by the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic bacteria, algae and higher plants evolved on a planet where natural light levels show considerable intermittencies, caused by the daily patterns of night and day, seasonality and cloud cover. Algae in polar regions can go months in near total darkness into periods where they experience light 24 hours a day. Algae are well adjusted to deal with these fluctuations in their primary energy source so there is good reason to believe that they will adjust to light intermittency when LED lighting is used for demand side management.

Of course, there is a potential cost: if algae do not receive light then respiration will deplete energy reserves and the algae will consume themselves and eventually starve but this is not a rapid process so the question is more one of productivity than survival: just how much can the amount of light given to algae be varied before production becomes economically ineffective? The answer to this also depends on the value of the use of the algae in demand side management, through allowing renewable projects to be undertaken that could not otherwise happen due to grid constraint or income streams that become available through grid balancing. These strictly economic questions are being modelled as part of the ASLEE project by the University of West Scotland but at Xanthella one of the tasks is to better understand the effects on the algae of the intermittency of light in the industrial production of algae.

For photosynthetic organisms like algae, light is energy and so we might expect that growth of the algae simply corresponds to the availability of light as a function of total energy where the other feedstocks (water, CO2 and nutrients) are not limiting. Thus algae that are given light over twenty four hours might be expected to grow at twice the rate of algae that are given the same light concentration but only over twelve hours, mimicking a natural day-night cycle. However, the situation is considerably more complex than this due to a process known as photoinhibition.


Photosynthesis occurs in the chloroplast in algae and higher plants. Light is captured at the thylakoid membranes and the energy used to produce NADPH and ATP which are in turn used to fuel the Calvin Cycle where CO2 is converted into sugars.   Photons are captured by molecular antennae in the thylakoid membranes but this process damages the antennae reducing their ability to capture more photons. At the same time cellular repair mechanisms are fixing this damage. As light intensities increase, more damage occurs until a point is reached where the repair mechanisms cannot keep up with the rate of damage and the overall rate of photosynthesis drops. This is photo-inhibition.

Complicating this further is the fact that individual micro-alga in a photobioreactor do not experience identical light levels except at low densities. As the culture increases in density, light penetrates less and less distance into the photobioreactor giving a gradient where the light levels can be quite different over a few centimetres. The algae are also not in fixed positions as the water within the photobioreactor is constantly circulating so that an individual micro-alga may be moving from very different concentrations of light every few seconds: moving from zones where they may be subjected to photo-inhibition then into areas where there is insufficient light to maintain photosynthesis and then into a “Goldilocks” zone where the light concentration is optimal for photosynthesis.

Increasing the light intensity in a photobioreactor will increase the zone within which photoinhibition might be expected to occur but it will also mean that there are fewer areas where light is insufficient for photosynthesis. Changing the light intensity will, therefore, not necessarily directly relate to growth of the algae and we can expect to find plateaus of photosynthetic activity over which adding more light will have little effect on increasing the amount of algae produced. Similarly, if we make the light intermittent so that there are dark periods this will allow the repair mechanisms to fix damage quicker than if they were exposed to constant light within the photobioreactor.

pbr-lightsXanthella are looking at the effects of both changing light intensity and changing the periodicity with which light is delivered to the algae. Initial results are very encouraging as to the potential of using light intermittency for demand side management of electricity use. A 15 hour illumination with 9 hour dark cycle was chosen as this matches the proposed availability of “free” electricity from the Ardnamurchan Estate biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant which will run 24/7 but from which the electricity is only required during the working day. What we found was that there was no significant difference in either growth rate of biomass production over seven days when the light was given constantly or in a 15 hour light: 9 hour dark cycle. Increasing the amount of light given in the 15:9 cycle also had no significant effect.

The most efficient production was actually where light was given at the 15:9 condition without increasing the maximum of light to match the amount of light given over 24 hours under constant illumination. This suggests that there is significant photoinhibition occurring at the chosen light levels but the important finding is that we can manipulate light levels (and thus use of electricity) to a considerable extent but still achieve comparable results in terms of algal production.

We are now looking at other species and the effects of different patterns of intermittency including rapid changes in light illumination to mimic grid balancing activities

Visit the ASLEE stand at IBioIC’s 3rd Annual Conference – Delivering Impact

Thursday 26 & Friday 27 January 2017


January 2017 sees the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) host it’s third Annual Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which is set to showcase and exemplify IBioIC’s current and future activities; outline the Industrial Biotechnology (IB) landscape and opportunities in Scotland; whilst linking communities to forge future collaborations between industry and academia. Attracting over 300 bio-based professionals from across the UK, Europe and further afield, IBioIC is keen to place an emphasis on the trajectory of IB in Scotland, making it an attractive proposition for international investment.

‘Delivering Impact’ sets the theme for 2017 and will demonstrate the scale and breadth of activity of the sector and the opportunities available to accelerate the growth of the industry.

This is IBioIC’s biggest annual event with over fifty speakers spanning two days and delegates ranging  from high level business leaders, academics from across the UK and further afield, government representatives, and students who partake in our Skills Programme, making it is a very cost effective way to meet contacts old and new from the IB industry. Other highlights from the conference will include poster sessions, exhibition and sponsorship opportunities and of course, our networking dinner on the evening of day one. We look forward to welcoming delegates to the event.

The near final programme is available online and registration is open now:

Join the conversation and follow us on Twitter: #IBioIC17 @IBioIC



How algae can balance the electricity grid

The modern electricity grid is one of the engineering marvels of the world. The key challenge facing this modern marvel is that generation must equal load, at all times and in all places on the grid. Scotland’s electricity system is challenged by two factors:

  1. A distribution gird that was built up over the years to serve a relatively small and dispersed population;
  2. A vast renewable energy resource that generates intermittent electricity, and could generate much more.

Together these two factors create a problem that prevents Scotland, and especially the Highlands and Islands, from realising its full energy potential.

Most electric loads are not very flexible with respect to when they turn on and off: for instance would you want to wait for your cuppa until the sun is shining? How about only watching the telly when the wind is blowing?  Fortunately, there are some loads that can be flexible about when they use energy off the grid, and the production of algae is one of them. Algae need light to live, but they are inherently capable of growing and thriving with an intermittent source of light. And they produce a huge variety of valuable compounds, from biofuel or high-protein feed, to high value pigments and Omega -3 oils.


The ASLEE project aims to marry an understanding of:

  1. The value of flexible load on the grid with;
  2. The effects of the intermittent light supply on algae growth.

We aim to demonstrate that a flexible load can use Scotland’s intermittent generation to produce valuable products, and help solve the region’s renewable energy challenge. VCharge technology will be used to manage the intermittency of the energy being put into the algal photo-bioreactors and to monetise this flexibility on the Scottish grid. The company has been providing grid balancing services to grids in North America for five years, and has developed close relationships with National Grid and Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD) that will enable the project to develop novel and lucrative approaches to energy use.