The WavyWind of the future: B2B photobioreactors for the production of microalgae

Founded in 2006, Lgem is the first company in the Netherlands to specialize in building patented photobioreactors for the cultivation of microalgae, using innovative in-house technology such as WavyWind and Bubblebrush. “Why Algae?”, says Sander Hazewinkel, our CCO. “Because they hold a lot of resources and are fast becoming the go-to commodity for a sustainable future.”

“The omega-3 fatty acid you can extract from algae is used for various purposes. It can serve as food for zooplankton, which in turn is eaten by fish larvae in commercial farms. For proper growth, sea bream and bass absolutely need the omega-3 fatty acid as well as the live algae. It can also be found in margarine, eggs, medicines, even in cosmetics. That’s what makes algae so valuable.”

B2B two-phase photobioreactor technology

Imagine a large greenhouse, filled with long glass tubes. Very large and technologically advanced installations, with test tubes stacked on top of each other. Water flows through them, in meticulously calculated waves, while sunlight shines in to work its magic. Here, algae are produced, grown as a protein source, as raw material for medicine, and as input for tons of other useful applications. Even in locations where water is sparse, these tubes allow for high-quality cultivation of algae for any number of sustainable applications. 

The Lgem proprietary PBR or photobioreactor technology was developed, improved and validated at our commercial facilities. “After examining various algae production systems – from plastic bags and bubble columns to PVC tubes – we launched our system, a glass tubular helix system that offers extreme durability and a more simplified, cost-effective form of algae production. Add to that low operational costs and expenses due to low consumption of energy and minimal loss of water, minimal labour and minimal maintenance, and you can understand our enthusiasm.”

In each tubular loop a two-phase flow is created, resulting in the completely unique Wavywind and Bubblebrush principles. The two-phase flow looks like elongated gas bubbles alternated with liquid slugs, mixing the culture without using a liquid circulation pump. “This makes Lgem PBR’s uniquely suitable for cultivating fragile and challenging species.”

“To clarify, we do not grow algae here”, continues Hazewinkel. “We merely provide the reliable, patented systems necessary to do so on any desired scale. We have over 15 years of hands-on experience in building these installations for the Nannochloropsis, Chlorella, Spirulina and many other species of algae. A very solid basis of knowledge, development and innovative design puts Lgem at the very forefront of this market.”

Wavywind and Bubblebrush

“With the launch of the GemTube, huge savings in production costs per kg of algal biomass were realized. GemTube’s costs were significantly lower than conventional bag or bubble column systems, while increasing light levels and maintaining growth parameters at optimal values could reduce production costs further.” The tubular PBR’s convert light, nutrients and CO2 via photosynthesis into biomass and oxygen, compatible with both sunlight and artificial (LED) sources. Long tubular loops are possible because of the aforementioned Wavywind and Bubblebrush technology, which also make upscaling significantly cheaper. 

“Culture broth is continuously pumped into the system whereas the air is pumped in at a certain rate. Together they generate a wave that is pushed by high velocity air stream, known as the Wavywind. When the wave is traveling along the tube, bubbles are formed, keeping the internal tube wall from fouling; Bubblebrush.” 

Lgem is very proud of the significant improvements that Wavywind and Bubblebrush technology bring to the algae cultivation process. “These improvements put the company’s patented systems on the next level compared to any others currently available in the market, as Lgem’s PBR’s offer a smaller light path than conventional systems. It allows for cultivation at increased cell densities without losing productivity. Furthermore, as Lgem’s PBR’s are closed systems, the culture is physically protected from contaminants.”

Lgem develops risk-free, stable and reliable systems with a proven technology. The consistently high quality of our PBR’s, due to industry-best mass transfer and smart hygienic design, is rivalled only by the ease of use, thanks to the simple and hassle-free operation with smart measurement and control. “Furthermore, it’s versatile, broadly applicable, proven to be effective under varying conditions and can be implemented for the cultivation and growth of any microalgae species, including the most fragile ones.”

Algae Hub

The newest Lgem industrial photobioreactors are entirely automated and easily integrated into a completely automated production facility with up-and downstream unit operations and climate-controlled greenhouse/buildings. Lgem avails over the highest production standards, achieved with high-quality in-house engineering and production (in accordance with all relevant ISO standards). The capacity of production allows for short lead times worldwide, even for large projects. 

“At Lgem, investment risk reduction is a crucial success factor for investors in a healthy algae industry. In our cutting-edge Algae Hub facility, customers are offered the possibility to validate their business case on a commercially relevant scale before making significant investments. Because we understand: industrial production needs turnkey, fully automated solutions. Lgem is the one-stop-shop for the realization of algae production facilities.” 

“We have now expanded our production and showroom facility (8.000 m²) in De Kwakel, near Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and have named it the Algae Hub. Here, we can meet up, share knowledge and create business. Clients can test the systems and the quality of the algae and have 100 percent reliable scale-up data. We’re also more than happy to open up our test facilities to research, universities and companies as well as grant them access to our lab, so that we can create an inspirational think-tank and cultivate innovation as well.”

Lgem’s PBR’s are ready to be integrated into a fully automated workflow, combining the implementation with both up- and downstream processes. Lgem offers its GemTube tubular photobioreactors with volumes ranging from 25 to as much as 45,000 litres.

Further reading

Lgem is able to deliver world-wide algea solutions to any scale.