Algae Assoc. to Hold Seminar on Using Wastewater

Our friends at the Mid-South Chapter of the National Algae Association are holding another seminar. This time the talk will be “Algae: Mining Wastewater for Nutrients, Fuel, and Fertilizer” at the Holiday Inn Research Center in Huntsville, Alabama on March 26, 2010.

I caught up with the chapter’s president, Tamra Fakhoorian, to talk about this information-packed workshop that will explore using wastewater streams to grow the algae for end-products to include biodiesel.

“Algae production is gaining momentum all over the world, and I want to ensure the algae industry gets off on the right foot regarding sustainability,” says Fakhoorian.

She adds that using wastewater to grow algae is a win-win-win situation: getting oil for growing biodiesel and end-products industries, minimizing the impact on fresh water sources, and saving the environment.

You can hear more of my interview with Fakhoorian below.

Fakhoorian has some pretty good experts slated for this one-day workshop, including:

Mark Zivojnich/Hydromentia
Aron Stubbins/ Old Dominion University- Deputy Director of Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium
Dr. Michael Baron
Chuck Pardue/Algae Bioenergy Solutions, LLC
Luke McConnell/Renewergy, LLC
Bob Vitale/WaterWheel Factory
Victoria Kurtz/Fluid Imaging

For more information, contact Fakhoorian at 270-328-8314 or e-mail her at tamraf.naa@wk.net. Also you can check out the Web site: www.nationalalgaeassociation.com and click on the Mid-South Chapter link. Registration is available at the door.

Expert: Algae Must Be Commercial Scale or Just Playing

A man who is considered to be the father of genomics says that if algae-based fuel makers can’t start making billions of gallons of fuel, they are just playing with investors’ money.

This post on earth2tech.com says Craig Venter, the founder of synthetic biology startup Synthetic Genomics, made the remarks at the Wall Street Journal’s Economics conference this week:

In other words the algae companies need to be able to reach the scale at which the oil companies currently operate to be competitive. “That’s the real bugaboo for everybody,” said Venter. To address that hurdle, last July Synthetic Genomics announced that it was partnering with ExxonMobil on a $600 million algae biofuels program.

Synthetic Genomics is different than many of the algae fuel companies out there — Venter estimated there are 200 or so — because Synthetic Genomics is looking to use its synthetic genetic processes to tweak algae and other microorganisms to create synthetic super bugs that can crank out as much fuel as possible. Such genetically-altered bugs could consume CO2 and create synthetic hydro-carbons that could be a fuel replacement.

Venter said the synthetic genomic process could one day fundamentally change not just fuel and transportation, but food supply, medicine, and clean water. Venter and his crew at the J. Craig Venter Institute have already created a completely synthetic bacterial genome, which they claimed back in 2008 was the largest man-made DNA structure ever. Now Venter and the researchers are “extremely close” to activating the synthetic bacteria chromosome in a new cell which would make “the first synthetic species,” and will be their “proof of concept,” as Venter put it at the conference. That’s some crazy stuff.

The article goes on to say that some biofuel companies, such as Synthetic Genomics, are forming partnerships with some big oil companies to address the issue. In addition, Algae biofuel maker Sapphire Energy says it will be able to produce 1 million gallons of algae-based biodiesel and jet fuel per year by next year and a billion gallons per year by 2025.

Biodiesel Turns Sesame Street Green

Sunny days … and biodiesel … will be sweeping the clouds … and the smog … away as the studio that produces Sesame Street will switch to the green fuel for heat.

The New York Daily News reports Kaufman Astoria Studios just became the greenest studio in town as it switches from traditional heating oil to “Greenheat,” a new blend of petroleum and biodiesel produced by a Brooklyn-based company:

The deal with METRO will provide the Astoria facility – the city’s oldest functioning movie studio – with 80,000 gallons of the new fuel a year, making it the largest commercial user of Greenheat in the city.

“Anytime you can do something and not damage your budget dramatically and be able to burn a cleaner fuel…why wouldn’t I?” said Hal Rosenbluth, president of Kaufman Astoria Studios.

METRO President Gene Pullo said commercial customers would normally use a grade of fuel with a higher sulfur content, which means more pollution. But over the past few months, these customers have expressed a greater interest to go green with their heating fuel.

“We recognized that there would be a greater demand for sustainable fuels,” said Pullo, 56, whose grandmother started METRO in 1942.

The studio will use a 5 percent biodiesel blend made from used cooking oil from restaurants, soybean and canola oils, and algae.

Lambright Joins Algae-Biofuel Maker Sapphire

The former head of the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Chief Investment Officer of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is bringing his copious financial knowledge to algae-biofuels producer Sapphire Energy.

This company press release says James Lambright will also head Sapphire’s international expansion efforts:

A respected leader in the private and public financial sectors, Lambright rounds out an already impressive leadership team, which, since 2008, has focused its efforts on producing a scalable, renewable, low carbon liquid transportation fuel from algae, sunlight and CO2.

In this newly created role, Lambright will expand Sapphire’s presence in international markets where, just like America, complex energy needs dominate the agenda.

“No matter the issue – climate change, national energy security, or job creation – Sapphire Energy is poised with a solution – Green Crude,” says Jason Pyle, CEO of Sapphire Energy. “We have unequaled expertise in science, energy, and transportation. And now with Jim on board, we’ve added a depth of international markets and finance experience unmatched in our industry. That, plus the recent federal funding award and our healthy independent investment funds, positions Sapphire well down the path to make Green Crude commercial-ready.”

Lambright adds that he is excited to join Sapphire Energy, and it is the perfect place to help address the most complex challenges facing economies around the world: energy security and the environment.

IKA Bio Reactor For Algae Production

One of the exhibitors at the recent National Biodiesel Conference that I met with was Drew Harrison, Analytical Sales Manager for IKA Works, Inc. The company was displaying its new Bio Reactor, seen brightly lit in this photo.

Drew says IKA is a hundred year old company. Working with a marine science center they helped them build a photo bio reactor to grow algae. They built a prototype which the marine center used effectively and now they’ve come out with a production model which was on display at the trade show. The unit is a small R&D 10 litre fermenting tank with light for the photosynthesis reactions. He says this can be done in larger volumes too. They will work with a client company to build one to the size they need. Their customers will be “anybody who is looking to harvest algae for biodiesel, nutriceuticals, pharmaceuticals and food.”

You can learn more by listening to my interview with Drew here:

Researcher to Genetically Modify Algae for Biodiesel

A researcher at Iowa State University is genetically modifying algae to make it a better feedstock for biodiesel.

This article from Biodiesel Magazine
says Martin Spalding, ISU professor of genetics, development and cell biology,has received a $4.37 million grant U.S. Department of Energy to stack traits in algae, specifically, one type of alga, Chlamydomonas, whose genome has already been mapped out:

Spalding hopes stacking Chlamydomonas’ desirable traits will lead to more oil production and thermal resistance, ultimately developing a desirable feedstock for biodiesel and other renewable fuels production.

“We have a sequenced genome, we understand the metabolism, and we have the tools available to us to work with this alga,” Spalding said. Much of the current research on algae is being conducted on wild strains that have certain desirable traits such as high oil yield, but Spalding said, “The limitation with that strategy is that it has no flexibility because the algae can’t be manipulated genetically.”

Since the Chlamydomonas genome is already mapped, however, work can be done to tailor the genetic makeup of this alga to meet the growing biofuel industry’s needs.

It’s a three-year study that Spalding will conduct with some fellow ISU professors and Purdue University researchers as well.

Algae Association to Hold Workshop on Wastewater Use

The National Algae Association’s Mid-South Chapter will be holding a workshop on how to best use wastewater to grow algae, especially algae for use in biodiesel.

The workshop, entitled “Algae: Mining Wastewater for Nutrients, Fuel, and Fertilizer,” will be held in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday, March 26, 2010:

With US fresh water supplies slowly dwindling and algae culture quickly becoming the centerpiece of bioenergy/bioremediation research , we must carefully examine our water and nutrient sources for an efficient, sustainable algal industry. This workshop explores how to minimize algae’s fresh water and nutrient footprints by recycling anthropogenic wastewater streams including agricultural, municipal, and industrial, while at the same time producing a host of valuable algal end products. In addition, we will learn of algae’s tremendous potential as a cost-effective bioremediation tool for wastewater streams, effecting a more stable and healthy ecosystem.

The group is also calling for white papers to include in the workshop looking at wastewater applications for both open pond and closed loop algae systems, technologies and support equipment. But you’ll need to hurry, because papers must be submitted by March 1st.

For more information on the workshop and white paper submission, contact Tamra Fakhoorian at TamraF.NAA@wk.net.

US Military: Just Months Until Affordable Algae-Biodiesel

One of the biggest knocks on algae-based biodiesel is the high cost for the truly green fuel. But the U.S. military says it is just months away from making biodiesel from algae for the same cost as its petroleum-based counterpart.

The UK’s Guardian reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency … better known as DARPA …. which helped develop the internet and satellite navigation systems, has surprised the industry with the announcement:

Darpa’s research projects have already extracted oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon. It is now on track to begin large-scale refining of that oil into jet fuel, at a cost of less than $3 a gallon, according to Barbara McQuiston, special assistant for energy at Darpa. That could turn a promising technology into a ­market-ready one. Researchers have cracked the problem of turning pond scum and seaweed into fuel, but finding a cost-effective method of mass production could be a game-changer. “Everyone is well aware that a lot of things were started in the military,” McQuiston said.

The work is part of a broader Pentagon effort to reduce the military’s thirst for oil, which runs at between 60 and 75 million barrels of oil a year. Much of that is used to keep the US Air Force in flight. Commercial airlines – such as Continental and Virgin Atlantic – have also been looking at the viability of an algae-based jet fuel, as has the Chinese government.

“Darpa has achieved the base goal to date,” she said. “Oil from algae is projected at $2 per gallon, headed towards $1 per gallon.”

DARPA officials expect to have a 50 million-gallon-a-year algae-biodiesel refinery up and running sometime next year, making it possible that cost for the fuel will drop even further.

The effort is part of the Pentagon’s plans to get half of its fuel from renewable sources by 2016.

UNL Begins Expansion for Algae Research

UNL scientists will begin growing algae in bags like these later this year as part of their research into algal biofuels. George Oyler / courtesy photo.

Algae research continues to get a lot of focus. University of Nebraska-Lincoln has announced that it will expand its algae research center this year, dedicating more space in the Beadle Center greenhouse for the work. As reported by Biomass Magazine, the university received $1.9 million in federal funding for it current research in alternative energy and is anticipating additional funds.

Scientists, using natural algae strains, will begin by growing algae in bags. From there, they will move to oblong ponds. Along the way, they hope to achieve three goals as identified by Paul Black, a lipid biochemist at UNL who will be participating in the study: identify the best strains for maximum oil production; identify optimal growing conditions; and modify the algae for maximum cell density.

Currently, the research team is working with a photo bioreactor that is designed to increase cell density per unit volume from about two grams per liter to eight to 10 grams per liter, by exploring maximum light and carbon dioxide conditions, Black said. Cell density is important because their is a possibility of making it simpler to harvest the algae. “You’re in essence, fooling them,” said Black.

Another area of concentration is optimizing oil extraction. According to Black, the team has used organic solvents and is also looking at using carbon dioxide and high pressure.

Although there is no immediate timeframe for the establishment of tangible results, Black anticipates some compelling data to be forthcoming within a year.

OriginOil Unveils System for Algae Growth & Harvest

Our friends at OriginOil, Inc. have developed a comprehensive pilot system for algae growth and harvesting.

This company press release says OriginOil unveiled the system during an event at its Los Angeles headquarters:

At the event, Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO, spoke to the assembled group of core investors, celebrities and members of the press. “I’m very proud of our team that has worked so hard over the months to make our technologies work in a complete pilot system,” he said. “Until now we have been in pure research and development. Now we have turned the corner to commercialization of our technologies. It’s a historic milestone for us.”

At the heart of the new system is a series of 200-gallon tanks which can be individually configured and managed for various strains, growth strategies, and lighting geometries. The tanks are now illuminated with LED light sticks submerged in icicle-like arrays. A stirrer circulates the algae slowly around the lights.

The system uses an integrated extraction system, a combination of ultrasound generation and low-power electromagnetic pulsing, which you can see in the link of the time-lapse video on the right. It will crank out 5 gallons a minute and also uses a series of settling tanks to separate the oils and biomass. Finally, a water recycling system completes the loop so the process can start again.

See more for yourself at www.originoil.com.

Biodiesel Maker Contends Study Proves Algae’s Worth

A recent study that contends algae-based biodiesel is no more environmentally friendly than conventional row-crop feedstocks has generated some controversy, as well as quite a few comments. And even the algal-biofuel industry seems to be split on the issue.

As you might remember from my story last week, University of Virginia researchers have concluded that algae’s environmental footprint is larger than other terrestrial crops, and the environmental impact of algal-based biofuels needs to be better studied before major investments in algae production are made.

ABOLogoThe Algal Biomass Organization has taken exception with the study with the group’s executive director, Mary Rosenthal, pointing out several concerns about the report:

· Assumptions about algae growth systems. The report uses a first generation, raceway-style pond system as its benchmark. Many leading algae companies abandoned that approach years ago and have a variety of more advanced cultivation systems, some of which are unrelated to the methods the authors sought to assess.
· Assumptions about co-location. By assuming the production facility is not co-located with a large CO2 emitter, calculations for sourcing CO2 are flawed, resulting in a higher attribution of CO2 for algae plants. Most commercial-scale algae projects are being developed alongside major emitters in order to beneficially reuse CO2 that will take the place of equivalent carbon emissions from petroleum fuels.
· Assumptions about water use. The study assumes fresh water and non-potable salt water are equal. A sustainable industrial algae production model uses non-potable, non-agricultural water in the process of making liquid fuels.

OriginOilWhile agreeing with ABO’s contentions with the study, Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of algae-biofuel maker Origin Oil, says the research does prove that the old way of turning algae into biodiesel is not a valid method anymore. And it’s not a method his company practices.

“It basically puts a tombstone on those earlier approaches [to algal-biodiesel production].”

riggsEckelberry says the Virginia study confirms earlier research that OriginOil did that found you need to co-locate algae-growing operations with other CO2 producers, you can’t use vast amounts of land, and non-potable water must be used, among other things. But Eckelberry says the algae industry has done a poor job getting that word out, with his own company’s research all but ignored months ago. He hopes this will serve as a wake-up call for the algae industry’s advocacy group.

“I think they’ve been looking for a focus and some traction as an organization. And from the e-mails I’ve received and forwarded [from the ABO's Rosenthal], I think they’ve found it.”

Eckelberry says he’s forwarding his information to the ABO in hopes the industry can work together to show that algae-based biofuels are truly the greenest fuels on the planet.

You can hear my entire conversation with Riggs here:

Algae Might Not Be as Green as Crops for Biodiesel

We’ve talked a lot about the potential of turning algae into biodiesel, especially how it could be better for the environment than more conventional feedstocks, such as farm crops like soybeans and canola. But researchers at the University of Virginia are casting some doubt on that assumption.

This story on Greenbang.com says their new study finds that growing algae for fuel is more energy- and water-intensive than other biofuel crops, including switchgrass, canola and corn … plus, it could produce more greenhouse gasses:

clarens“Given what we know about algae production pilot projects over the past 10 to 15 years, we’ve found that algae’s environmental footprint is larger than other terrestrial crops,” said Andres Clarens, the study’s lead author. “Before we make major investments in algae production, we should really know the environmental impact of this technology.”

But algae for biodiesel could still be a green venture if it is grown in ponds behind wastewater treatment facilities. That would also provide a source of feedstock that isn’t competing with food sources. The bottom line is: we need to look a little bit before leaping too far into algae-based biodiesel.

Biomass to Provide Power for Algae Biodiesel Plant

EnergyQuestAn algae-biodiesel plant in Alabama will be powered by biomass.

This press release posted on CNNMoney.com
says Nevada-based Energy Quest, Inc. will build a turn key biomass (wood waste) to power/algae energy plant producing 26.8 megawatt (24 net) of power in Piedmont, Alabama:

The attached Algae biodiesel plant will produce a clean and efficient fuel that can be used in any device that utilizes diesel fuel.

The plant at full capacity will require 33.5 tons per hour of wood waste feedstock provided from the surrounding area. The plant will produce approximately 24 MW of electrical power at $0.06 per KW and 20 million gallon annually of bio-diesel at $2.00 per gallon. The plant will operate 24 hours a day and when completed provide 60 jobs. EQI would be an owner and operate this facility.

Energy Quest’s advanced modular gasification design will result in lower set up costs and increased efficiencies. The gasifiers will provide clean syngas fuel for the power generators. The Algae CO2 capture system will be provided by others and completely built in Piedmont.

The stack gases containing CO2 are captured and ducted to Algae growing pod clusters as feed for the growth of Oil (lipid) producing Algae. Algae grows in water. The lipid laden Algae is harvested from the pod growing clusters several times per day. The Algae is then dewatered to a sufficient level to feed into the lipid extraction process. Once the lipids have been extracted from the Algae it is fed into the lipid oil to diesel conversion process. Using this process will yield 200 litres of bio-diesel from every ton of CO2 produced from the biomass combustion process.

The project is estimated to cost nearly $81 million.

Stimulus Bucks to Fund Algae Biofuels Research

PNNL1Money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act … aka the Stimulus Bill … will go to fund research on algae-based biofuels.

This press release from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
says the lab will get about $14.2 million for its role in two biofuels research consortia:

[Energy Secretary Steven] Chu funded the consortia with nearly $80 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds with the goal of bringing new biofuels to the market and developing a cleaner and more sustainable transportation sector, as well as reducing dependence on foreign oil sources …

PNNL will co-lead one consortium with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and then play a large role in a second consortium led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

For more than 10 years, PNNL has advanced the science and technology for converting biomass into liquid transportation fuels, bioproducts and bioenergy. Its key focuses have been catalysis, environmental biotechnology and analysis. Biomass is biological material that comes from plants, wood, waste and other materials and can be converted into fuels and other products.

“We’ll be calling upon our entire suite of disciplines and capabilities in our support to these consortia,” said John Holladay, PNNL biomass manager. “We are positioned to address the entire spectrum of scientific challenges associated with developing a sustainable biofuels transportation sector – from fundamental research to applied processes.”

The press release goes on to say that the lab has several capabilities … proteomics, gasification and catalysis research… critical to biomass fuel conversion.

Danforth Center Receives $44 Mil for Biofuels Research

Danforth Center jpegThe St. Louis-area Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will receive $44 million in stimulus bucks to conduct advanced biofuels research.

This press release from the center says the money from the U.S. Department of Energy will go to helping the center to serve as the lead organization in a consortium:

The National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB) led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is one of two cross-functional groups that will seek to breakdown critical barriers to the commercialization of algae-based and other advanced biofuels such as green aviation fuels, diesel, and gasoline that can be transported and sold using today’s existing fueling infrastructure. Ten to 15 jobs in St. Louis will be immediately created as a result of the project. Biofuels generate more jobs than any other sector of sustainable energy. As the industry grows, there is potential for hundreds of thousands of new jobs nationally.

The NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal biofuel (such as renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) and bioproducts. NAABB will integrate resources from companies, universities, and national laboratories to overcome the critical barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial viability. The consortium will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to significantly increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products, and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production. Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks, and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will cover diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.

The release goes on to say that the award will help cements St. Louis as a center for the development of renewable energy from algae.