Modeling an Airlift Reactor for the Growing of Microalgae

Gustavo A. Lara1, Luis Moreno2, 3, Yendery Ramírez2, 4, Luis A. Cisternas2, *
1 Departamento de Física, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1240000, Antofagasta, Chile
2 Departamento de Ingeniería Química y Procesos de Minerales, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1240000, Antofagasta, Chile
3 Department of Chemical Engineering and Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, SE-100 44, Stockholm, Sweden
4 School of Business and Management, Lappeenranta University of Technology, FI-53851, Lappeenranta, Finland

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© 2018 Lara et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Departamento de Ingeniería Química y Procesos de Minerales, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1240000, Antofagasta, Chile; Tel: 5655 2637323; E-mail:



The flow dynamics of an airlift reactor for the growing of microalgae is modeled using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD). The model is applied to the operation and optimization of the reactor, giving a valuable picture of the liquid movement and carbon dioxide trajectory at different air injection flow rates.


A novel aspect of the model is that air and carbon dioxide are injected at separated locations. Air is injected at the bottom of the reactor and CO2 injection takes place in the downcomer region of the reactor to obtain longer CO2 paths, improving its transference.


The results show modeling is a useful tool in the control of the reactor operation; for example, in avoiding the sedimentation of microalgae or for detecting the existence of zones with extremely low CO2 concentrations.

Keywords: Photo-bioreactor, Microalgae, Biofuel, Modeling, CFD, Fluent, Bubble column reactor.