The research

What we do

In the REALM project, we are going to develop an innovative, sustainable and cost-effective system to cultivate microalgae. Core aspects are the reuse of drain water from soilless greenhouses, the application of the continuous production mode at industrial scale and the use of renewable energy. The novel system will be tested in Southern, Central and Northern Europe, so it is applicable to all European countries.

Novel sensors will monitor the growth and physiological state of microalgae in real-time. Their data will help to create digital twins and predictive models, essential to automate production and harvest. They will ensure a high quality of the cultures. Based on the continuous data collection, we establish growth models for different microalgae species and provide these data to the scientific community and microalgae producers.

Reusing Effluents from Agriculture to unLock the potential of Microalgae

8.554.800,75 €


July 2022


48 months

algae culture
algae culture

How we do it


Determine the nutrient content of drain water from different greenhouses.

Also, check that no agrochemicals are present which can inhibit the growth of microalgae.


Select the microalgae species that are best suited for the conditions.

Grow them in the drain water mimicking different seasonal conditions and monitor the improvement of the water quality.


Optimise the cultivation system, CO2 concentration unit and harvesting equipment.

Also, develop sensors to enable the creation of digital twins and predictive models, automatic cultivation in continuous cultivation mode and remote control.


Validate at pilot scale that cultivation of microalgae in drain water is feasible.

Demonstrate that the REALM concept works at an industrial scale. Validation and demonstration take place in four European regions that have a high presence of soilless greenhouses and are located in three different climatic zones.

We install two fully operational facilities in Northern Europe to validate the REALM concept at pilot scale: 1 m3. We will test the feasibility to grow microalgae in drain water of soilless greenhouses, specifically under the climatic and light conditions of Northern Europe. Data of all parameters will be collected throughout the tests. The results are essential for scale up of the concept also in colder climates. In the validation plant, we will also test the direct CO2 capture technology. The facilities will be installed in Wageningen, The Netherlands and Turku, Finland.
Close to industrial scale, we will operate two 10,000 m2 plants to show that our concept works. The facilities will be the first of their kind and provide technical, economic and environmental information. We will use these data to evaluate the sequestration of nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon, and assess the potential effects on the surrounding ecosystem. This information will be useful to optimise the productivity of microalgae at the different locations. The two demonstration facilities will be installed in Tavira, Portugal and Almeria, Spain.

Develop novel biostimulants and biopesticides for agriculture and feeds for aquaculture.

Develop the best biorefinery route for these products. Test the products in field trials with tomato and cucumber or on finfish larvae, bivalves and shrimp, respectively.


Assess the techno-economic, environmental and social aspects of the REALM concept

to ensure its economic feasibility, circularity and sustainability.

Will the REALM concept work?

REALM is based on the preliminary work of AlgaCycle and NordAqua. They served as a testbed. Their promising results showed that we can grow microalgae in the drain water from greenhouses. Therefore, biomass productivity is similar or higher than for growth media that are commonly used in the industry.

Results have also shown that microalgae can completely remove nitrates and phosphates from the drain water.

The REALM squad

Our expertise is diverse stretching from marine biology and biotechnology over horticulture to data science. We‘re working across borders and disciplines, because we believe that true innovation comes when we think outside the box. Learn about our expertise and motivation behind this endevour.


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Associated partners

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algae culture
algae culture

Other exciting research initiatives

Are you a science geek or just simply interested in applied research about microalgae? Then feed your algae-loving brain more facts about these incredible organisms.

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