Venice seaport eyes algae to fuel energy needs

A boat passes a bridge on the island of Murano near Venice January 27, 2009. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

ROME (Reuters) - Venice’s seaport plans to become self-sufficient in its energy needs by building a power plant fueled by algae, in what would be the first facility of its kind in Italy, the port authority said.

The plant will be operative in two years and produce 40 megawatts of electricity, Venice’s port authority said, adding that an emissions-free energy source would help preserve the historic lagoon city’s delicate ecological balance.

The plant -- only the third of its kind being planned in Europe -- will be built in collaboration with renewable energy services company Enalg at a cost of 200 million euros ($272.6 million), a port authority spokeswoman said.

Several companies are in the race to find economic ways to turn algae, one of the planet’s oldest life forms, into vegetable oil that can be made into biodiesel and other fuels.

In Venice, the algae will be cultivated in laboratories and put in plastic cylinders where water, carbon dioxide, and sunshine trigger photosynthesis. The resulting biomass will be treated further to produce a fuel to turn turbines.

The carbon dioxide produced in the process is to be fed back to the algae, resulting in zero emissions from the plant.

The port needs about 7 megawatts to satisfy its energy needs, so the excess energy could be supplied to ships docked at the harbor, it said.

The port is was also considering a photovoltaic park that could produce 32 megawatts of solar energy.

Reporting by Deepa Babington, editing by Anthony Barker