French supermajor TotalEnergies is partnering with compatriot Veolia in a microalgae cultivation project with the long-term goal of producing biofuel.

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TotalEnergies revealed Tuesday it was teaming up with Veolia in a four-year research project at the La Mede biorefinery, in France, aimed at accelerating the development of microalgae cultivation using carbon dioxide to produce biofuel.

The microalgae use sunlight and CO2 from the atmosphere or from industrial processes to grow through photosynthesis. When mature, TotalEnergies says they can then be transformed into biofuels with low carbon intensity.

“We are pleased to join forces with Veolia at our La Mede site to accelerate the assessment of microalgae cultivation systems using CO2, in the aim of producing next-generation biofuels,” TotalEnergies chief technology officer, Marie-Noelle Semeria said.

“Biofuels will enable TotalEnergies’ clients to reduce their carbon footprint, and thus contribute to the ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 together with the society.”

The companies will set up a test platform to compare different innovative systems for growing microalgae and identify the most efficient ones.

TotalEnergies will bring its expertise in the cultivation and refining of biomass to produce advanced biofuels to the partnership, as well as its CO2 capture and utilisation technologies.

Veolia brings expertise in the water sector, to optimise management of the microalgae's aquatic environment, as well as expertise in the development of algal biomass as an effective solution for CO2 capture.

“With this project, Veolia can contribute its technical expertise in optimising and securing biological treatments to a more global context that will have a positive impact on the ecological transformation,” said Veolia’s technical and scientific director, Philippe Seberac.

“This partnership is an excellent example of the ecological innovation capacities that Veolia wants to offer its customers in response to the climate change.”

The agreement with Veolia marks TotalEnergies’ latest research into using microalgae to create biofuels. It is also carrying out projects with a number of other partners, such as France’s CEA and China’s Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, as well as the Netherlands’ Wageningen University.

TotalEnergies claims biofuels can lower CO2 emissions by at least 50% compared to fossil fuels and could play a vital role in the future in reducing global emissions, particularly in transportation.

The French giant is currently exploring two biomass conversion pathways — biotechnology, which is the pathway being pursued under the partnership with Veolia, as well as thermochemical conversion.

The biotechnology pathways sees microorganisms, such as yeast, bacteria or microalgae, covert both plant matter and inorganic carbon into target molecules, while thermochemical conversion enables biomass to be transformed into a wide range of molecules through the combined action of pressure, temperature and often a catalyst.

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