Berrysmith Foundation

Visit to Laurent Lecesve

16-Mar-2012

Visit to Laurent Lecesve

  Laurent in the snow covered Spirulina Greenhouse in Normandy

During his recent trip to Franch, Ashley stayed with Laurent at his Parent’s home in Houlgate (Holly Gate). It is the place where William the Conqueror set sail with 1,000 ships to conquer Britain and succeed. The beach in front of Laurent's parents place was where the first airplane was flown from France to UK. When Ashley visited, there was snow down to the water line at this beach.

Laurent's research team includes a German microbiologist, Frederike Claussen (female) whom he met at the Healthy Lifestyle show where Laurent was demonstrating spirulina. The other scientist who is an expert on wild spirulina strains around the world is Gilles Planchon (45) who lives in Paris. They have been working on projects including how to isolate nutrient from biodigester leachate, how to store fresh spirulina and how to optimise Phycocyanin levels while maintaining high fresh weight yields. Ashley purchased Gilles book in French called "La Spirulina Pour Jous - Culture Famiale" which means Spirulina Culture for All The Family".

Laurent collaborates with the University of Esix, Caen and Saint Lo and has a wild strain spirulina bank in the University of Caen.
Laurent operates on a 70 hectare property, purchased by a council formed from 8 villages that wanted to have a green initiative. There are currently 5 projects on the property including; 
Biogas; to produce heat, power and CO2 for spirulina 
Spirulina; 4 x 50 square metres of basins. One basin is organic.
Forrest Gardens; A permaculture project
Tree houses 
Organic Milk production

Laurent is involved in the first three projects. He has built a small biodigestor as a trial. It is a small continuous digester, long and thin, where organic waste is fed from one end and is harvested from the other. The unit is heated to about 45 degrees C. The finished product is a sludge which contains mineralised organic matter. The issue with this organic nutrient for spirulina is that the filtrate from the sludge is still a very dark colour which is not suitable for spirulina tanks as it prevents light penetration and discolours the spirulina itself. The biodigestor has taken 4 years to get to the trial stage. Now Laurent is accepting that only nitrogen can be recovered as a clear liquid through steam distillation. Laurent entering his snow covered Spirulina Greenhouse
Laurent has managed to raise E 900k to build a bigger biodigestor where the French government has guaranteed to buy electricity at twice the cost of purchasing electricity from the grid. The French government has signed a contract to purchase power at Euro 0.15c per kw for 15 years. The standard power costs are about Euro 0.08c per kw. 
The proposed biodigester feedstock will be a combination of cow and horse manure plus grass. The unit has 4 chambers which are filled every 14 days consecutively. There is a flexible cover which is both the entry point for feedstock and gas collection. The feedstock is placed on screens where leachate is drained and collected in a separate tank and is pumped continuously over the feedstocks within the digester. The digester is continuously heated to 45 degrees from heat produced with some of the biogas. Each chamber is about 40 cubic metres and measures about 20m x 5m x 4m high. The unit is buried about 2.5 metres deep. The unit is expected to produce 100kw of electricity (enough for 300 homes) and 140kw of heat, which will produce water Temperature 80 degrees C for 22 hours per day. 

Total feedstock to produce the above is 6,500 MT per year (125 MT per week). If the same digester used only vegetable matter such as lettuce leaves, the calorific value would be much less and would produce only about 20kw electricity and 30kw of heat.

With more heat being available with the new biodigester spirulina production will be able to increased from 6 months to about 8 months per year. The plan is to double the area of basins from 200 square metres to 400 square metres. When Ashley visited, a ground based heat pump had broken down and the spirulina was down to just above freezing point and amazingly still survived. At low temperatures the spirulina is vulnerable when exposed to high light, so Laurent has had to cover the tanks.


      Laurent's cat who has never seen snow before eating Spirulina fortified (by us!) cat food      Vial of pure Phycocyanin (vivid blue colour) extracted from Spirulina (makes up 20% of the protein in Spirulina) and is used by athletes for quick muscle recovery and endurance

Laurent discussed the issue with plumpy'nut the product used for famine relief in Africa. It is based on peanuts and GMO soya where American growers are heavily subsidised. It is now the recommended product for malnutrition by WHO and UNICEF. Shockingly, several villages and even orphanages who produce spirulina now cannot use it as UNICEF and WHO have told the villages that if they continue to use spirulina, further aid will be denied. Plumpy'nut is made by a French company. 

While having lunch with Laurent, he gave Ashley a vial of commercially produced Phycocyanin, which is very popular for sports people and is sold in health food stores throughout France. Each vial is made from the equivalent of less than one gram of spirulina and is sold for about Euro 130,000 per kg compared to a maximum of Euro 130 per kg for the Plumpy’nut.



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