Malta ranks 25th in the 2015 Eco-innovation Scoreboard with a composite index of 64 relative to the EU-average index of 100. The country slightly exceeds the EU-28 average in terms of resource efficiency outcomes (with an index of 104), but lags behind in eco-innovation inputs, activities and outputs and socio-economic outcomes.

The development of eco-innovation is hindered by a mix of natural constraints and structural challenges, including the country’s small size and insularity, limited potential to develop renewable energy sources, a weak human resources base in science and technologies, limited capacity and readiness for research and innovation on behalf of local firms, and relatively low levels of investment in R&D.

Nevertheless, several recent policy initiatives – most notably, a new National Research and Innovation Strategy to 2020 – reflect the Government’s commitment to improve Malta’s innovation environment and R&D potential. Policy initiatives specifically related to eco-innovation and the circular economy include a Green Economy Strategy and Action Plan, a National Electromobility Action Plan, and a new Waste Management Plan. Areas that have benefitted from eco-innovation solutions in the past two years include water management (in particular, efforts to address water scarcity) and energy efficiency


2015 Eco-innovation Scoreboard ranking and eco-innovation index composites for Malta


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Algae Biofuel and Algae By-Products

Malta_GPE_AlgaeEnergy is the cornerstone of any society, and over 25% of the energy fuels the transport sector. In view of this, Altern was set up to identify alternative sources that can replace the current fossil diesel.  On research performed during 2009, algae-derived biofuel was identified as having all the necessary characteristics to offer an alternative solution to fossil fuel.  The main Objective of Altern R&D is to bring Algae derived Biofuel to a commercial standpoint.  While Alge Biofuel is a long term goal, By-Products such as Protein, Aquaculture nutrients, and Fertilisers are currently  technically and financially feasible to produce and sell.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional fossil fuel, and is typically made up by chemically reacting lipids such as vegetable oil, animal fat etc.  The final product is produced by the transesterification of a triglyceride and an alcohol.  Biodiesel can be used in a conventional internal combustion engine with minimal or no alterations.

Microalgae tend to grow very fast (double their size in 24 hours), and the most common growing technology is by the use of Photobioreactors which are mainly transparent tubes supported by a frame containing water, algae, nutrients and Carbon Dioxide.  Currently the concept of bio-refinery is being introduced, where every component of the biomass is used to produce usable products, thus making the cycle more efficient.

Because of the relatively new nature of this product, considerable research has to be undergone, both in the methods of production and in the impact on different vehicles.   With this research (Phase 2 currently on-going) Altern will acquire extensive knowledge on algae strains, harvesting technologies, and methodologies in order to optimize the biofuel production in Malta.  The company is not focusing only at the biofuel solely, but shall look at all the by-products available, and consider them as being potential products.

On a more specific nature, the management team has identified a number of goals that are being addressed to by the company.  From a Biological standpoint, these include, identification of the right strains of algae and investigation on the growing factors which algae are dependent on.  On the other hand, currently the engineering team is investigating the ideal methods of growing the algae and extracting, feasibly, the products form the algae cells, in the light of the Maltese scenario.

Phase 3 is expected to commence towards the end of 2012 and will comprise the setting up a commercial pilot plant, which uses all the knowhow acquired in the past years to have an on-going running system.  This will form the bases of all other plants and developments in the future.

As explained, in order to ensure economic feasibility, the company is looking into markets for the by-products produced from the production of biofuels from algae.  These mainly comprise of protein and fertilizers, both of which can be successful products in the feedstock and agricultural market.  The yield of such by-products is usually around 50% of the algae biomass and thus considerable production sizes are expected.  Add to this, high quality protein is a sought after ingredient, thus making such a product highly important in making the venture a more successful one.  Add to this, current research is working on using Alge Growth (which requires Carbon Dioxide) to sequestrate CO2 from Flue Gas produced by Gas-combusting electricicty generating engines.  This further reduces the Carbon Footrpint of such machine and consequently improves the Sustainability of the holistic cycle.

Barriers and Drivers

Altern is aware that Algae Derived Biofuel requires extensive research to achieve the ideal algae and equipment for our particular requirements and, with the help of local and foreign consultants, had concluded that the initial logical step is to set up a pilot project through which research can be conducted in order to optimize the various factors involved.  In this light, the objective of the current industrial research phase is to set up a pilot project of the whole algae-derived biofuel production plant in order to start a sate of the art research base in Malta.

As in every new venture Project Economies are fundamental.  Altern relies extensively on EU funding to develop further the Algae Project.  Notwithstanding this, private investment has been critical for the ongoing support.  Altern looks into achieving , through its Engineering and Biological experts, a fully technologically and financially sustainable system.

For the successful completion of this project Altern understands that: Quality and Continuous Improvement is key to having an innovative production which is continuously on the lookout for new and alternative technologies; Efficiency in production and implementation is key to having a production which is steadfast and cost effective, consequently improving the potential of success of the company; Knowledge and expertise is fundamental in the subject of biofuels and microbiology.  Consultants and scientists are thus key to having an innovative team, and global networking is on going throughout the project.

Economic Performance

The global political entities are aware that environmental help has become a critical issue nowadays.  The local government has to abide by strict norms, failure to do so would lead to financial penalties.  With petroleum rocketing to values as yet never reached, investment in alternative sources of fuel has become a major issue for the sustainable growth of an economy.  Secondly, algae production offers an option that is completely independent of the foreign commodity market.  This gives the user complete autonomy from prices and instabilities on the global scale.

Social Performance

The proposed project targets one of the fundamental social problems currently being face, that of environmental degradation.  By offering an alternative option to petroleum fuel, Altern is ensuring a better future to the community, and a better safeguarding of our environment.

Environmental Impact

Energy is the cornerstone of any industrial society, and over 25% of the energy goes to fuel the transport sector.  It is thus an obvious choice that, if the energy crisis is to be tackled successfully, considerable importance must be given to the driving force that goes to power our cars, lorries, ships etc.  Most of the larger engine, commercial cars use diesel as their primary fuel, and this goes to show the importance that this type of fuel must be given.  When considering the Malta-EU case, our country must abide to strict environmental regulations, including the 2020 mark of reaching at least 10% of alternative energy use of the country.  A feasible biomass such as Algae thus becomes an obvious choice.

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