July 28, 2009

More Algae Action: OriginOil Plans to ‘Milk’ Algae for Oil

Really, what is it with algae all of a sudden?

The algae are next

OriginOil, based in Los Angeles, just announced another potential breakthrough in getting oil from pond scum. One big difference from the spate of recent announcements in the algae-sphere: Origin’s new technology promises a better way to “milk” algae to extract their natural oils.

The upshot is that Origin uses electrical pulses to get at the oil inside algae without killing them, leaving them alive to produce more oil. Other processes rely on “harvesting” the algae, extracting the oil, then waiting for a fresh batch of algae to grow. Origin plans to merge the two methods—culling part of the algae and milking part of it.

The company says it is a low-tech and thus lower cost solution than other ideas that have been making the rounds. Most of those rely on genetically-engineering algae to excrete hydrocarbon-like liquids. And cost is still a huge issue for algae-to-oil operations, even if the cavalry is coming in the form of more government goodies.

Not that Origin is averse to jumping on the genetic-engineering bandwagon: “Live lipid extraction is especially beneficial when used with algae that have been genetically engineered for faster growth rate or higher lipid yields,” said Paul Reep, one of the technology’s inventors.

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