Optimizing lipid extraction for biodiesel and other advanced biofuel production at a scale that can economically and feasibly operate commercially is a high bar to climb for many involved in the algae-to-biofuels sector, but Tampa Bay, Fla.-based Culturing Solutions may be on the cusp of reaching one more rung up the ladder toward that goal as it hosts the grand opening of its algae-to-biofuel demonstration plant Nov. 17 in New Port Richey, Fla.
What differentiates Culturing Solutions’ application, according to CEO Dean Tsoupeis, is the company’s ability to mitigate carbon dioxide from industrial flue gases by feeding it into its Phyta-Platform or Phyta-Pond Photobioreactors for enhanced algae cultivation. Dissolved CO2 absorption into a liquid growing media, together with new pump technology, also increases biomass exchange and concomitant photo exposure, which increases algae growth by 300 percent. The Phyta-Platform PBR technology platforms can achieve algae concentrations of 4 to 6 grams per liter at an efficiency of 20 percent in optimum summer daylight.
“Basically, we’ve optimized the photo absorption rate to four times more than in nature,” Tsoupeis told Biodiesel Magazine. “What can also happen is the NOx and SOx can be absorbed so we’re mitigating two more greenhouse gases that way and absorbing some free nutrients.”
Tsoupeis said the Phyta PBR technology uses a proprietary pumping system that helps keep the algae moving. All the air that enters through is cleaned by ultraviolet sterilizers.
“We exchange all the air as needed depending on external weather conditions,” Tsoupeis said. “We use all the same sensors, dosing and CO2 delivery systems in the Phyta-Pond as we do in the Phyta-Platform so we can monitor and control the pH and nutrient levels.”
As far as lipid yield from cultivated algae, Tsoupeis said the company hasn’t yet been able to get over 35 percent lipid production yield in the PBRs, “but we’re working on that,” he said, adding that the company is working with an undisclosed university on its patented lipid extraction technology that will enable the company to increase lipid yield to the desired 40 to 50 percent yield goal.
Tsoupeis explained how he’ll be demonstrating a cell disruptor, a microchannel that collides two streams of air at 30,000 psi that breaks algal cells and keeps temperatures down to prevent emulsions from occurring, which can free up additional algal lipids.
“From there we can run it through a coalescer to get free oils out,” Tsoupeis said.
The company introduces a natural nontoxic flocculent to the remaining algal biomass that is then collected at the bottom of a chamber of the PBR. Culturing Solutions then uses supercritical fluid extraction techniques to get the rest of the oil of the algal biomass. If the company can get enough free oil out with its homogenizer, Tsoupeis said, and then it could bypass the supercritical fluid extraction step being left with de-fatted algae biomass.
“What we’re looking to do is raise the oil content high enough to where we can extract that, and then what’s left over in the biomass we would have around the natural 12 percent lipid content good for aquaculture feed, animal feed or human consumption,” he said.
Additionally, Tsoupeis said his company is working closely with in-state biodiesel producer Genuine Biofuels, which is expected to produce batches of biodiesel from samples of Culturing Solutions’ algal oil in the coming months. Genuine Biofuels employs a continuous flow ultrasonic shear mixing technology to produce methyl esters from waste vegetable oil at its 6 MMgy production facility in Indiantown, Fla.
Tsoupeis added that the company’s Phyta-Platform PBR technology can also be integrated within a energy-efficient, carbon-neutral closed-loop system. For example, he said, one could use biodiesel to power a generator and then capture the flue gas emitted from the generator to feed into the Phyta-Platform platform to cultivate algae in a continuous process. He said his company is also interested in further optimizing the Phyta-Platform technology to be potentially applied to biojet fuel or renewable diesel production.
The demonstration plant in Florida is Culturing Solutions’ first, but the company’s technologies are also being used in Rhode Island, Australia, Romania, Hungary and Russia.
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