March 18, 2008

PetroSun algae farm to begin operation April 1

By Jerry W. Kram

Web exclusive posted March 18, 2008 at 2:21 p.m. CST

The nation’s first commercial-scale, open-pond algae farm to produce oil as a biodiesel feedstock will begin operating near South Padre Island, Texas, on April 1. PetroSun Biofuels Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of PetroSun Inc., will operate the farm, which is located on the site of a former shrimp farm, according to Jim LeCrone, chief operating officer of PetroSun Biofuels.

The facility currently has 94 five-acre ponds and 63 10-acre ponds totaling 1,100 acres of growing space on the 1,831-acre site. “The farm will give us a step into immediate large-scale production and extraction of the algal oil,” LeCrone said. “This is a quick start because the ponds are there and ready to go. This will be like a giant pilot plant for us, showing us how to do this on a much larger scale.” The open-pond system will use salt water, which implies a marine species of algae, but LeCrone wouldn’t confirm that.

The site has preexisting ponds, offices, labs and a building, which will allow the company to get the site up and running quickly. “If you go out and try to develop a farm, the first and foremost thing is the cost of the land,” LeCrone said. “You want to go where the land is cheap and you won’t be messing up the environment. The nice thing about this setup is that the land is there, and it has already been developed. We won’t have that learning curve to go through, and permitting will be easier. It makes the whole process much easier, so we can get started.” If the algae farm is successful, there are surrounding areas available for expansion.

PetroSun Biofuels is moving rapidly to create a widespread network of algae farms around the world, forming subsidiaries in Mexico, Brazil and Australia. It has also announced plans to build additional farms in several U.S. states. The company has entered a joint venture with Optimum Biofuels LLC to develop a biorefinery in Arizona and has purchased a 50 percent interest in Fleet Biodiesel Inc., which is acquiring an existing biodiesel facility in Bridgeport, Ala. Some of the algae oil produced in Texas may go to the Alabama facility. “They are using a different type of feedstock right now, but [in the] long term, that is a possibility,” LeCrone said. “We are building a facility in Coolidge, Ariz., and that will also be a customer. We are also talking with potential customers in Louisiana.”

LeCrone said tests conducted at the PetroSun Biofuels pilot algae farm in Opelika, Ala., showed oil production between 5,000 and 8,000 gallons per acre per year. He said challenges with extracting the algae from the water and the oil from the algae were overcome at the pilot facility. “All of the technology was developed at Opelika over the last year,” he said. “We have a process that is totally different than what anyone else has been doing. We can’t divulge what that process is, but we don’t have a problem with any of those things.” After extraction, the residual algae biomass can be made into ethanol or other products.

After the oil is extracted on-site using a proprietary process, it will be shipped to company-owned or joint-venture biodiesel production facilities. “We can ship by land, sea or rail, so this site is pretty nice that way,” he said.

PetroSun will conduct jet fuel and bioplastics research and development projects supported by the supply of oil from the operation.

An aerial view of the algae farm can be found at

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