Tuscan Geothermal to Cultivate an Aztec “Superfood”

Published on Friday, 3 February 2017

Using steam from the earth to cultivate what the Mayans and Aztecs called the “food of the gods”. That’s what’s happening in the geothermal area of Tuscany (Italy) thanks to an agreement between Enel Green Power and the Consortium for the Development of Geothermal Areas (CoSviG), which brings tradition, local entrepreneurship and innovation together in one single project.

Geothermal energy is able to cover more than 27% of Tuscany’s energy needs. It heats over 10,000 homes in the area and provides heat to 30 hectares of greenhouses, dairies and other local agricultural businesses. Now it will become an innovative frontier in nutrition and pharmaceutical science, thanks to a project cultivating spirulina algae.

On 13 January, in Larderello, we signed an “Agreement of collaboration for experimentation on geothermal resources applied to the cultivation of algae” with CoSviG: the two sides will put up 100,000 euros each towards the construction of a pilot plant, which will be built next to the Chiusdino geothermal plant, for the production of spirulina algae using geothermal energy.

The agreement lasts one year and involves the construction of a greenhouse where spirulina algae will be cultivated using both geothermal heat and carbon-free CO2, a product of the geothermal energy production process and a substitute for natural emissions, useful for fostering the cultivation of algae.

“Spiruluna algae is one of the so-called “superfoods”: incredibly rich in protein, it has antibiotic and antiviral properties and is one of the most potent sources of nutrients available to humans”

Already known in antiquity, spirulina is a natural micro-alga originally from central America and central Africa, which is currently cultivated in special aquatic farms, especially in sub-tropical regions.

Alongside Enel Green Power and CoSviG, others involved in the experiment include the Department of Agricultural and Food Production and Environment at the University of Florence, which, through a start-up of the University Incubator of Sesto Fiorentino, will take care of inocula development and the training of plant employees, and CNR (National Council for Research) for the monitoring and characterisation of the cultures.

The Chiusdino pilot plant will be ready by the beginning of spring, when it will begin cultivating the algae: at the end of 12 months, the results of the experiment will be assessed in terms of the economic and environmental suitability of using geothermal heat and CO2 for the cultivation of algae.

The goal, if the experiment goes well, is to foster the development of this type of activity on a larger scale in all the Tuscan geothermal territories, to the benefit of the environment, of the health of the citizens and of area employment.