August 7, 2009

The Petri Dish Overfloweth with Algae Advancements

Written by Joanna Schroeder

Algae, algae, algae. The research that is occurring on this second generation fuel has overfloweth the petri dish as just this week there have been five major algae announcements.

1. W2 Energy, based in Canada, announced that it has completed its Sunfilter commercial scale algae bioreactor.
2. Algaeventure Systems said that it has begun receiving orders for its algae harvesting, dewatering, and drying technology. The company that has placed the order is General Atomics.
3. Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at University of North Dakota was awarded a subcontract by SAIC to use its proprietary technology to produce jet fuel from algal oils.
4. Kent BioEnergy, based on California, announced that it is going to establish a division of the company in Charleston South Carolina, partnering with a Grant Know, a local entrepreneur.
5. Algenol Biofuels, a Florida based company, has threatened to leave the state and now they are working with CEO Paul Woods to entice his company to stay.
* » See also: Q & A With OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry
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So now that you have the overview, let’s get down to some specifics.

W2 Energy

The Company has just completed the final testing of its Small Electrical Generating System (SEGS). The system is coined the SunFilter Algae Reactor and is designed for the production of biofuel and the sequestration of greenhouse gases. The SunFilter will now be manufactured for commercial scale applications and emits zero greenhouse gases into the environment.

How it works: The SunFilter is a tubular algae bioreactor designed to sequester nitrogen and carbon oxide gases. The gases enter the bottom manifold of the SunFilter and bubble up through the algae tubes.

Low power ultraviolet lights, in combination with the gases, feed the algae which grow and fill the tubes with blooms. When the blooms have reached an appropriate density, a set of magnetic rings inside the SunFilter tubes scrape them clean and push the algae upward to the upper manifold, where compressed air pushes the algae out. The algae is then compressed and dried, and then either fed back into the NT Plasmatron to be gasified or fed into a biodiesel reactor to make biodiesel. The advantage of making biodiesel with the algae is that biodiesel has better lubricity than Fischer Tropsch diesel, while Fischer Tropsch diesel has a higher cetane.

Algaeventure Systems

I can’t seem to find a way to explain their Algae Harvesting system so I’m going to let them do it for us. I will say that it is designed to reduce costs and increase efficiencies making the production of algal fuels cost competitive.

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Energy & Environmental Research Center

The EERC, housed at the University of North Dakota, got their name out just two weeks ago with the successful flight of their proprietary algae based super fuel called Jet Propellant - 8 (JP-8). As reported on this site, the fuel was used to launch a rocket above the Mojave Desert. The really cool thing other than the fuel was that it almost reached the speed of sound.

Kent BioEnergy

Although the company is establishing a new division in South Carolina, the company is based in southern California including a 160 acre process development and production facility south of Palm Springs and a research laboratory in San Diego. The company is developing a new process for growing algae known as the Controlled Eutrophication Process (CEP). This process is a multi-stage microalgae cultivation system that produces dense populations of single-celled algae at a fast pace in algal ponds.

How it works: The algal ponds are divided into a series of zones for algal growth, concentration and harvest. The zones are then linked in a sequential patten of water flow driven by low-energy, cost efficient hydraulic paddlewheels. The algal harvest components are seperated from the algal production and concentration zones which allows separated optimization of the algal biomass production process from the removal process, ultimately maximizing both production and harvesting.

Algenol Biofuels

This company creates ethanol from algae whereas most other companies are using algae to create biodiesel. The Algenol Direct to Ethanol technology produces industrial scale, low cost ethanol using algae, sunlight, CO2, and seawater and does not use food, farmland or fresh water. Actually, the process produces fresh water.

The technology will produce about 6,000 gallons of ethanol per acre as compared to approximately 500 gallons of ethanol per acre when using corn. The energy balance is 8:1, also slightly better than corn-based ethanol - although corn-based has a positive net energy balance.

The Direct to Ethanol process creates ethanol inside each algae cell by linking photosynthesis with natural enzymes. The process also uses the CO2 so it reduces CO2 levels in the air.

So there you have it. The latest and greatest news on algal fuel production. With all this action, maybe we won’t have to keep waiting five years for the algal fuel to come to market.

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