May 13, 2008

Carbon recycling system closer to reality for industry to soak up greenhouse gases

Quebec City, QC - A network of research and technology organizations says it is getting closer to piecing together a system that would fast-track a natural greenhouse gas recycling process in large volumes. Scientists through Innoventures Canada (I-CAN) are working towards creating a system that would convert carbon dioxide diverted from industrial facilities into valuable products using micro-algae.

I-CAN is a not-for-profit consortium of ten Canadian research corporations who have joined together for key strategic projects. The organization held its annual meetings in Quebec City April 24 and 25 with an update on its CARS project - Carbon Algae Recycling System. CARS proposes to feed flue gas (CO2, NOx, etc.) directly from industry into ponds to feed the growth of micro-algae, which would then be harvested and processed into value-added products such as ethanol, bio-diesel or fertilizer.

"In essence, the goal of CARS is to fast-track Mother Nature's own process of using plants to soak up greenhouse gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere," said John McDougall, vice-chairman for I-CAN from the Alberta Research Council. "Algae growth research isn't new, but our goal is. Other algae projects are aimed at creating bio-fuels. The goal of CARS is to provide industry with a sustainable, affordable way to deal with their greenhouse gas emissions."

The base case chosen for the preliminary CARS work is sized to consume up to 30% of the greenhouse gases produced by the average 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant. "That's the base case, and we'll work upwards to larger capacities from there," he added. He predicts the sale of byproducts like ethanol or fertilizer from harvesting the algae would help offset the cost of operating the CARS algae systems.

Since announcing the CARS project last year, scientists from four different provinces have made head-way in proving this concept could work in Canada in a cost-effective way.

"Until now, it was believed Canada's climate and light conditions wouldn't support these kinds of algae projects," notes Denis Beaulieu, chairman for I-CAN and a special consultant for the Centre de Recherche Industrielle du Quebec (CRIQ). "We've now discovered the less intense sunlight in Canada is actually beneficial to the growth of algae, and we are devising concepts of how covered pond systems could work economically in our climate."

The comprehensive research program is taking a two-pronged approach. The biological piece of this puzzle will identify a strain of algae that thrives on the specific chemical composition of flue gas, at a target temperature, given the angle of sunlight in Canada. On the engineering side, the researchers have already determined that neither the existing photobioreactor nor the open pond systems would deal with large enough volumes of CO2. I-CAN partner researchers are now developing a hybrid covered pond system that maintains the consistent environment required by the chosen strains of algae.

National demand for such a project is mounting. Governments are targeting industries to reduce their greenhouse gases in the coming years, leaving industry scrambling for ways to cut their emissions in a way that's good for the environment and their bottom line.

Participating organizations for the CARS project include Centre de Recherche Industrielle du Quebec (CRIQ), Alberta Research Council (ARC), Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) and Manitoba Industrial Technology Centre (ITC). The project is currently funded by the Government of Canada through Natural Resources Canada, the Province of Alberta through the Alberta Energy Research Institute, Alberta Bio-fuel Fund and the Alberta Life Sciences Institute, as well as the Province of Quebec. Industry partners include Mosaic Potash, Suncor Energy, EnCana, Graymont Mining, New Brunswick Power, EPCOR, Petro-Canada and Shell Canada.

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