Energy Revitalization: A Story About Microalgae Biofuel

Ini  adalah tulisan salah seorang massa HMRH 2012 (Muhammad Hamzah Syahrir) yang berhasil menjadi juara II dalam lomba karya tulis EBTKE-CONEX tahun 2013 tingkat universitas se Indonesia. Silahkan disimak.

Energy Revitalization: A Story About Microalgae Biofuel


A Fossilized Future?

From a self supplier to a net importer of fossil-based energy, our beloved Indonesia is currently degrading towards an unstable future in energy supply. With limited barrels of petroleum left and a constant increase in energy demand, Indonesia has to put a tremendous effort to stabilize the production and consumption energy in various sectors. One of the fastest growing sectors is the transportation sector which uses 27% of the primary energy. This situation has forced our country to seek many alternative sources for renewable energy especially in the fuel sector. Up until know, bio-based energy is one of the most preferable energy because of its promising potential in the fulfillment of The Triple Bottom Line Principle to Asses Fuel; balanced proportion in social, economic and environmental sector.

1st, 2nd, and 3rdGeneration Biofuel

Biofuel, which includes bioethanol and biodiesel, like our ancestors has come in many generations. The 1st generation biofuels focuses on crop-based plants (sugar containing crops, wheat etc) which causes several concerns.The most common concern related to the current first generation biofuels is that as production capacities increase, so does their competition with agriculture for arable land used for food production. The increased pressure on arable land currently used for food production can lead to severe food shortages, in particular for the developing world where already more than 800 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Agriculture activities in farmland will increase, elevating the economic needs for crop and farm treatment.

Moving on to the second generation, the production of fuel is from lignocellulosic biomass, the woody part of plants that do not compete with food production, involving jathropa, cassava etc. Sources include agricultural residues, forest harvesting residues or wood processing waste such as leaves, straw or wood chips as well as the non-edible components of corn or sugarcane. Albeit being uncompetitive in food production sector, the 2nd generationstill has a weakness. The process of converting woody biomass into fermentable sugars requires costly technologies involving treatment with specialized enzymes.This generation still has hope though, considering scientist and engineers effort researching alternatives in optimizing the efficiency and production of the 2nd generation biofuel.

The third generation is still centering photosynthetic creatures, specifically aquatic microbial oxygenic phototrophs or AMOPs that includes microalgae.Microalgae are a diverse group of prokaryotic and eukaryotic photosynthetic microorganisms that can grow rapidly due to their simple structure. In comparison to terrestrial plants, microalgae have a leading advantage if we look at its potentials. It is known that microalgae have rich amount of lipid and carbohydrate. Lipidsare esterified into biodiesel and carbohydrates are fermentated into bioethanol. Some microalgae species such as Botryococcus  braunii, Dunaliella  salina,  and Monalanthus  salinacontains lipid in a range of 40-85%.

Many researchershave shown that microalgae have a much higher energy productivity rate (up to 15-300 times for producing oil)for biodiesel production than traditional crops on an area basis.Microalgae have superior light capture efficiencies which makes their growth cycle much faster compared to land-based or terrestrial plants. In addition, the conversion process is not as complex and costly as terrestrial plants, considering the lack of cellulosic compounds that needs pre-treatment. Algae also have a great diversity, making it feasible to select the algae containing the closest intrinsic futures we desire. Some algae are already well characterized and potential in applying genetic modification for biofuel purposes.

Cultivating the Critters

One of the most important and challenging step before extracting lipid for biofuel purposes, selected microalgae strains have to be cultivated and given the proper treatment for a specified amount of time, depending the internal and external factors affecting it. There are two type of cultivation systems (1) open pond and (2) closed photobioreactor (PBR) system. The open pond cultivation method has a preferable application in commercial based production, which mass amount of algae are cultivated at the same time.These systems can be categorized into natural waters (lakes, lagoons, and ponds) and artificial ponds or containers. The amount of microalgae that can be produced in commercial scale can reach 8-10000 tons. In terms of stability in system control and engineering efforts, the PBR system is a better approach. The weakness is that PBRs tend to have costly maintenance and treatment process.

Microalgae Biofuel in Indonesia: Implementation and Methods

Microalgal farming using wastewater

Geographically, Indonesia  lies  on  equator  where  sunlight intensity is high. The light intensity that reaches Indonesia is up to 2400 W/m2, which makes our country potential for conserving biomass in photosynthetic creaturessuch as microalgae. Adding the vast water resources in Indonesia which is two thirds of the whole country, we can expect a mass amount of microalgae from marine water, freshwater and even wastewater.

A way of implementation that is feasible and ongoing is an integrated approach to microalgal farmingusing wastewater produced from industrial activities. The cultivation environment involving microalgae activities need sources of carbon and nutrients (N,P,K). These elements could be taken from palm oil, tofu and urea industry wastes. Taking Indonesia as one of the king producers in palm oil production, the total amount of wastewater that could be derived is 60 tons. Palm oil wastewater or known as Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) is rich with carbon compounds such as CO2 which is beneficial for the algae. Open pond systems should be applied in this method, considering the high amount of POME that could be utilized and the economic benefit. This method could kill several birds with one stone. Aside from the biofuel that can be produced after wise for industrial purposes, this integrated approach can result to a beneficial impact to the environment. By the act of algae consuming nitrogen and phosphor from wastewater, eutriphication as a result from effluent dumping could be avoided. Implementation of this strategy could be done in areas where wastewater isa problematic issue, especially in areas that has poor treatment such as the outskirts of urban areas.The method of wastewater utilization has been applied by cultivating mikroalgae in waste produced from PT Batamindo and other industries.

Microalgal farming using marine microalgae

The vast ocean is one of Indonesia’s most precious treasure. Utilizing it to employ marine microalgae for biofuel production should become a novel idea.A few examples of marine microalgal speciesthat have been studied for microalgal farming include red marinealga Porphyridiumsp.,N-fixing cyanobacterium Anabaena,macrophytic marine red alga Agardhiellasubulata,Marine green alga Dunaliella tertiolecta,and marine phytoplankter Tetraselmis suecica.A research has shown that nitric oxide (NO)and carbon dioxide (CO2) were reported to be simultaneously eliminated from a model flue gas using a marine phytoplankter,Tetraselmis suecica,making it possible to combine biomass(biofuel) production with CO2 and NOx mitigation. It is expected that, with the selection of appropriate marine microalgal strains,costeffective production of different biofuels should be achievableusing seawater as the medium. This method could be implemented in seawater areas. Panjang Island, Awur Bay and Rembang in Central Java are several sites that contain potential microalgae to be utilized as biofuel sources.

Scaling it Up!

From the smallest scale of implementation, one could use a mini pond or photobioreactor as a cultivating system in a lab.Institut Teknologi Bandung in Jatinangor, the campus area where I live has a pond in the outskirts of its area. A research concerning the microalgae that lives in the pond could initiate the development of microalgae fuel implementation in the campus. After knowing the characteristics of algae, an open pond system with appropriate environment settings could be built inside the campus whilst increasing the population of alga. Aside from open pond system, a lab scale research involving closed systems that are engineered and optimized could add the diversity of algae applications. The algae remains of algae byproducts could also be utilized in further researches. By applying these methods and overcoming its challenges, not only biofuel sources could be gained, ITB Jatinangor could become a bio-based campus with an eco-friendly environment. A progress in harmony.

Researches in Indonesia have a big role in the development of biofuels that can be created from these little critters.It is not only about conducting experiments  on microalgae time after time and species after species to collect its data and concluding its potential. Biological engineering is also the key factor in optimizing the environment and system surrounding the microalgae, hopefully until a stage where it can perform in a much larger scale.The potentials that are given are not only from research organization such as LIPI, but also study fields in Indonesia that focuses on biological engineering. In Indonesia, there are two fields of study in undergraduate concerning this field, Bioprocess Engineering in University of Indonesia and Bioengineering in Institut Teknologi Bandung. Students focusing in those fields should learn about developing such technologies not when they graduate and learn outside the country, but starting from now. In the future, these undergraduates are hoped to be a much capable engineer in the fields of bioenergy, specifically in scaling up microalgae biofuel systems and enhancing the lipid contents of microalgae.

Blooming the Algae


What exactly are the efforts that could be taken in Indonesia related to the development and implementation of microalgae? There are many intriguing and novel methods that we can develop concerning this technology. In America, a big company focusing on the production of renewable energy named Solazyme has made a successful achievement by supplying 80,000 liters of algal-derived marine diesel and jet fuel to the U.S. Navy. Indonesia may have limited technologies, but our never-ending curiosity and creativity could overcome that. If a country such as America with its limited light intensity and biodiversity can achieve such an amazing succes, than Indonesia with its given potentials should be better.

One could say that we have to think twice to develop such incredulous technology. One can even say that with the budget of our country, this is just mere dream. By applying the policies of renewable energy and not thinking hundred times in giving and intensifying research funds on this sector, the government could definitely achieve its target in the Bioenergy Roadmap in 2025 of 25% , exceeding its fulfillment for energy demands. This country still has hope, and that hope lies on our shoulders. While the algae blooms, so does the future of Indonesia.

Keprofesian HMRH


Hadiyanto H. 2013. Valorisasi Mikroalga Untuk Sumber Bioenergi dan Pangan Sebagai Upaya Peningkatan Ketahanan Pangan dan Energi di Indonesia. Semarang

Mulyani A & Las I. 2008. Potensi Sumber Daya Lahan dan Optimalisasi Pengembangan Komoditas Penghasil Bioenergi di Indonesia. Jurnal Litbang Pertanian, 27(1), 2008

Nugroho H. 2005. Konservasi Energi Sebagai Keharusan Yang Terlupakan Dalam  Manajemen Energi Nasional Indonesia: Belajar Dari Jepang dan  Muangthai

Nur M.M. A & Hadiyanto H. 2013. Utilization of Agroindustry Wastewater as Growth Medium for Microalgae based Bioenergy Feedstock in Indonesia (an Overview). Semarang. J-SustaiN Vol. 1, No. 1 (2013) 3-7


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