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

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

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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