Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Learning sustainability by developing a solar dryer for microalgae retrieval

Benedita Malheiro, Cristina Castro Ribeiro, Manuel Fernando Silva, Nidia Sá Caetano, Paulo Ferreira, Pedro Guedes


The development of nations depends on energy consumption, which is generally based on fossil fuels. This dependency produces irreversible and dramatic effects on the environment, e.g. large greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn cause global warming and climate changes, responsible for the rise of the sea level, floods, and other extreme weather events. Transportation is one of the main uses of energy, and its excessive fossil fuel dependency is driving the search for alternative and sustainable sources of energy such as microalgae, from which biodiesel, among other useful compounds, can be obtained. The process includes harvesting and drying, two energy consuming steps, which are, therefore, expensive and unsustainable. The goal of this EPS@ISEP Spring 2013 project was to develop a solar microalgae dryer for the microalgae laboratory of ISEP. A multinational team of five students from distinct fields of study was responsible for designing and building the solar microalgae dryer prototype. The prototype includes a control system to ensure that the microalgae are not destroyed during the drying process. The solar microalgae dryer works as a distiller, extracting the excess water from the microalgae suspension. This paper details the design steps, the building technologies, the ethical and sustainable concerns and compares the prototype with existing solutions. The proposed sustainable microalgae drying process is competitive as far as energy usage is concerned. Finally, the project contributed to increase the deontological ethics, social compromise skills and sustainable development awareness of the students

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