Scaling up for success
06 December 2023
When Brilliant Planet needed to scale its algae-based carbon capture process, the business turned to a universal automation solution from Schneider Electric and Platinum Electrical Engineering
FOUNDED IN 2013, Brilliant Planet cultivates, and harvests algal biomass, which is then dried and buried in order to achieve carbon sequestration and help mitigate climate change brought about by the use of fossil fuels. While the eventual aim is to work on a Gigaton scale, the business is currently operating a three hectare pilot site in a desert area on the coast of Morrocco.
"What we are able to do is replicate nature, so this is a natural process," says Brilliant Planet's research director Toby Boatman of the operation. "We are taking algal blooms that we see offshore, that are isolated just a few kilometres from our production site and growing them using a new philosophy, a new culturing standard for growing algae with high growth rates and high system throughputs together with a lower op-ex."
Location, location, location
The location of the process is particularly important. As well as offering natural proximity to the agal blooms, the situation means that Brilliant Planet can take full advantage of renewable resources in the form of solar and wind power. It also means that the operation does not displace any farming or use land that would be suitable for arable purposes. Another benefit is that it brings new job opportunities to the area.
"By operating this site and putting our expertise in photosynthesis and how we culture the algae to use, we can maintain a productivity that is 30 times what we see in forestry," says Boatman. "This is a 'blue' carbon initiative rather than a 'green' carbon initiative and we are able to lock in and sequester a lot more carbon."
In addition, the operation serves to deacidify seawater. As the algae grows it takes in CO2 from the seawater. Brilliant Planet's process means that for every unit of seawater that passes through the site, 10.2 units are deacidified to pre-industrial levels helping to create a more hospitable environment for marine ecosystems.
In order to move the business to Gigaton scale Brilliant Planet recognised that it would need to employ system automation, so it embarked upon an Innovate UK project in 2020, collaborating with Platinum Electrical Engineering, in particular Steve Maltby who heads up engineering digital transformation there.
"This was a significant investment from the UK government," says Boatman."We were a flagship project; it was very challenging through COVID with travel restrictions and shortages, but we have successfully delivered the project and are now running the R&D site."
This is thanks by no small means to Platinum's ability to understand the innovative processes involved and also what Brilliant Planet wanted to achieve. Maltby showed great foresight in getting to grips with the business's aims to scale quickly and have a real impact on carbon mitigation, employing a highly repeatable modular approach to achieve this.
Using geographic information system (GIS) analysis, Brilliant Planet has identified a number of areas in the world that provide suitable locations for the process. However, different locations bring about challenges in terms of variable temperatures, light conditions and even different strains of algae. Any system needs to automate and adapt to all variables that might be encountered.
To achieve this Platinum Electrical Engineering, which is a Schneider Electric Alliance Certified Partner, has deployed EcoStruxure Automation Expert, the first software-centric universal automation system, alongside AVEVA System Platform and AVEVA Insight, providing complete visibility and control of operations.
EcoStruxure Automation Expert is based on the IEC 61499 standard for interoperability, and as such can be easily integrated with new or existing third-party equipment, meaning it can scale with ease across new sites globally for Brilliant Planet.
“By using EcoStruxure Automation Expert, we can significantly reduce the time spent on integrating and testing control software for each of Brilliant Planet’s sites,” says Platinum's Maltby. “It gives us the tools to be considerably more creative in the way we approach projects, allowing us to work with both green and brown-field projects, in a much more agile manner. The standardised application makes it straightforward to troubleshoot and adapt processes to customer-specific needs and deliver a complete bespoke, yet scalable system.”
- Founded in 2013, Brilliant Planet cultivates algal blooms to sequester carbon at gigton scale
- The process requires a highly flexible and efficent control system that can be easily scaled
- Software-centric universal automation system, EcoStruxure Automation Expert, achieves this