Geothermal Energy and Spirulina: from Tuscany to Space

Published on Friday, 30 March 2018

“The project bringing geothermal energy and spirulina together involves EGP and Co.Svi.G. together with Photosynthetic & Microbiological, a spin-off of the Department of Agricultural, Food and Environment at the University of Florence.”

Launched last year, the project involved the construction of the world’s first greenhouse for the cultivation of spirulina heated by the earth, with smart and sustainable reuse of the C02 waste produced by geothermal plants. At the 125-mq plant, spirulina is grown in open tanks and photobioreactors at a rate of 60 grams a day.

Heat for the greenhouse is provided by our Chiusdino geothermal power plant. The plant, in operation since 2011 with an installed capacity of 20 MW, produces about 150 million kWh a year, avoiding the emission of 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, and saving fossil fuels equal to 32,000 TOE (tonne of oil equivalent) annually.

A “Superfood” for Space

The results achieved by Enel Green Power and Co.Svi.G over the first twelve months of testing are encouraging: the geothermally-heated greenhouse is able to produce 25% more spirulina with 30% less cost, compared to production in other environments.

“Spirulina is considered a “superfood”: it’s rich in protein, has antibiotic and antiviral properties and it’s one of the most powerful nutrient sources available to humans”

Because of its nutritional characteristics, NASA is considering spirulina as a potential food source for astronauts on long missions to the moon and, in the future, to Mars.

In addition to being rich in protein and vitamins, spirulina prevents cardiovascular disease and has one characteristic that is especially useful in Space, its weight: just one kilogram, in fact, has the nutritional value of about 1000 kilograms of vegetables. 

Energy from the territory, for the territory

The commercial prospects and successful results of Enel Green Power and Co.Svi.G’s project have been welcomed by local Tuscan institutions, who look favourably at the possibility of creating an entire supply chain for the cultivation of spirulina for pharmaceutical and food use, starting with geothermal energy. 

“In Tuscany, production of geothermal energy started in Larderello in the early 1900s. It now powers more than 10,000 users, both private and industrial.”

Enel Green Power and Co.Svi.G’s project is an economic and employment opportunity for the whole region, and is focused on the smart and innovative use of a clean, renewable energy source that is rooted in the history of the territory: geothermal.