A PROJECT in the region that grows tiny plants capable of eating harmful industrial waste has received a vital funding boost.

Businesses in the North-East, including Alcan Aluminium, Sembcorp Utilities and Tata Steel have backed the revolutionary AlgaeCAT project which could prove to be a vital weapon in combating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Scientists at Redcar-based The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) are leading research into the cultivation of algae, similar to the tiny organisms found in a garden pond, that can reduce pollution from industrial chimney gas. The microscopic organisms are grown in water and convert CO2 into oxygen during the photosynthesis process, leaving a bi-product that can be re-used as fuel. The £1.2m funding, provided by the Technology Strategy Boards collaborative Reseach and Development Award, was secured with the help of Enterprise Europe Network North East. It will enable CPI to complete its research by April 2013 before the system can potentially be used by industry.

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The prospect of the Government introducing punitive carbon taxes has prompted companies which produce large amounts of CO2 to take a keen interest in the development of cost-effective carbon capture technology. Cemex UK, Steetley Dolomite and Ove Arup & Partners are among the firms monitoring AlgaeCAT.

Project manager, Chris Gilbert from CPI said: "The principle is very simple, you are using fairly proven elements: algae, light and water. What we are doing is putting some serious science into this process to see what volume of CO2 the process can fix, which algae works best, and how efficient it can become.

"There are a whole host of projects working on carbon capture. If you can find a way of grabbing CO2 and treating it on-site its got to be better than transporting it hundreds of miles away. This process has the potential to be much cheaper than other forms of carbon capture, but there is a lot of work to be done to prove that.

"It may all seem like something from science fiction but at the end of the day research and development must be linked to a real commercial and industrial application. The good thing about having partners from industry involved in a project such as this is that they keep pushing you to find a practical, economically viable solution rather than letting us becoming caught up in the science of it all."