Propel, Solazyme Seen as Future of Algae Biodiesel

SZ_Propel_1_webA couple of companies familiar to Domestic Fuel readers are being mentioned as the future of algae-based biodiesel. This article from the Voice of America (VOA) talks about how the partnership between renewable fuel marketer Propel Fuels and algae-biodiesel maker Solazyme, both based in Northern California, is advancing the role algae-based biodiesel is having.

“It all starts in the lab where what we do is we grow a proprietary strain of algae that are actually optimized to produce an oil that is a perfect oil, an algae oil, to make into fuel,” [Bob Ames, Solazyme’s vice president in charge of fuels] said.

To test its marketability, Propel installed algae-based fuel pumps at four of its seven stations in the San Francisco Bay area. It was the first time Solazyne’s new biodiesel was offered to the public. The companies were pleased to see a 35 percent increase in biodiesel sales over the month-long test-run.

“Basically, it was offered at exactly the same price as the competing fuel, and what consumers told us by buying more of it is that they were willing to buy it because of the better environmental benefits,” Ames said.

The article goes on to talk about the economies of scale algae-based biodiesel must reach to be profitable. The companies seem to be on the right track, as Solazyme has a plant in Illinois and another smaller one in California (plus a third even larger plant to be opened in Brazil) that are producing large quantities of algae oil, while Propel seems to have the best means of marketing this particular niche of the green fuel.

Students Raise the Green Flag for Algae

5217a9d137b67.preview-300Students and professors at Utah State University are raising the green flag for algae with a record breaking small engine dragster. Earlier this month at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Aggie A-Salt Streamliner clocked in at 73.977 miles per hour – beating the current record in their division of 72.102. The team hopes to set additional records with their algal-biofueled dragster during the World of Speed taking place in Utah’s west desert this week.

“The big benefit, once the price is brought down to where it’s competitive with regular diesel fuel, is that it would be a totally renewable fuel,” said USU Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Lance Seefeldt in an article in the Cache Valley Daily. “It would come from CO2 and sunlight. Then when you burn it, it turns back into CO2 again.”

The team of students is racing with algae biodiesel fuel that they are researching, producing and testing themselves. Graduate student Rhesa Ledbetter said that a benefit of using algae is that other resources are not being burned up.

“Producing fuel from things like corn and soybeans, things that we actually use as food products, that’s a major concern. We are taking something that’s food and using it as another resource. It can also start driving up costs,” said Ledbetter. “So if we can use something like algae that’s naturally present, I think people are much more open-minded.”

5217a979e8f83.preview-300A year ago, the dragster set a land speed record while running on yeast biodiesel fuel. Seefeldt says the big difference is that yeast biodiesel fuel comes from cheese waste while algae captures carbon dioxide out of the air and uses energy from sunlight to turn it into usable fuel.

The multi-department project began six years ago and has been featured in such places as the National Biodiesel Board’s annual conference where attendees were fascinated to learn about both the research and the racing.

“This is super exciting because many of the other schools working on this don’t have what we have in our hands,” said Research Assistant Mike Morgan who is also the driver of the dragster. “It’s the opportunity to raise the flag for everybody else and show that it’s doable.”

ABO Forms Joint Partnership with Japan

Cawthron Institute Alage ResearchThe Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) and the Algae Industry Incubation Consortium, Japan (AIIC), a group working to commercialize algae biofuels in Japan, announced a cooperative effort to share algae industry best practices and expertise during the International Symposium on Algal Biomass held in Tokyo, Japan. The AIIC contacted ABO for assistance in bringing together global algae expertise as part of the government of Japan’s efforts to diversify the country’s energy base.

“ABO and its members are honored to help the AIIC assemble an international community of experts to share knowledge about algae’s potential as a renewable source of energy,” said Mary Rosenthal, ABO’s executive director. “The high yields of algae and the ability to grow in saltwater with minimal impacts on agricultural land make algae-derived biofuels and other products attractive for any nation interested in sustainable sources of energy.”

ABO assisted the AIIC by facilitating contacts with global algae industry leaders, federal agencies and the research community.

“The AIIC is grateful for the cooperation of the Algae Biomass Organization and the international algae community,” said Isao Inouye of the University of Tsukuba and Board Chairman of AIIC. “Japan¹s energy goals and technical expertise can play a positive role in accelerating the commercialization of algae cultivation technologies that can provide sustainable fuels, chemicals and other products. We are looking forward to a productive partnership.”

Algae Int’l, Gulf Hydrocarbon Ink Biodiesel Deal

algaegulfhydroA commercial scale algae producer and a biodiesel maker ink a deal that will end up turning algae oil into biodiesel. Biodiesel Magazine reports Gulf Hydrocarbon will represent Algae International Group in sales and distribution of its algal oils and products created with the algal oils, including biodiesel, and precedes Algae International Group’s commercial production at its pilot facility located in Tulare, Calif.

Algae International Group advises that it will start the relationship with Gulf Hydrocarbon by shipping samples of proprietary and nonproprietary algal oils for testing as feedstocks for biodiesel. Jess Hewitt, chairman of Gulf Hydrocarbon, said, “Algae oils were approved by the U.S. EPA for use as a biodiesel feedstock in 2010 but we have yet to see the feedstock available. By shipping samples to the biodiesel producers, we can begin the process of registering the numerous production plants with the EPA.”

As a part of the agreement, Gulf Hydrocarbon will offer standard biodiesel reference fuels made using Algae International Group’s output from its pilot facility. “In order to satisfy the OEM’s requirements for engine and material compatibility, we must be able to supply a standard reference fuel before the engine manufacturers can certify use of the algal-based biodiesel in vehicle and nonroad engines,” Hewitt said. “Gulf Hydrocarbon will be responsible for quality control and packaging of these fuels for distribution to fuel laboratories and OEM testing facilities.”

Gulf Hydrocarbon will also represent Algae International Group’s excess biogas market.

New Mexico State University Awarded $5M Grant

New Mexico State University (NMSU) has been awarded a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve algae-based fuel that is compatible with existing refineries. The principal investigator of the project, entitled REAP: Realization of Algae Potential, will be Peter Lammers, director of the NMSU Algal Bioenergy team.

NMSU Algae Photo BioreactorLammers will coordinate efforts at partner institutions that include Los Alamos, Argonne and Pacific Northwest national laboratories; Washington State and Michigan State universities and four companies, Phycal, Algenol Biofuels, Pan Pacific Technologies and UOP-Honeywell.

Key goals of the 2.5-year project are to improve the yields and stability of algal biomass and cultivation systems while also improving oil content at harvest. Each of the necessary process elements, or unit operations, required to produce drop-in fuels from algal biomass are targets for improvements by various team members.

NMSU’s key role will be to integrate all of the unit operations at a single location to demonstrate start-to-finish process compatibility. For example:

  • strain improvement work will be conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Michigan State University and Phycal;
  • cultivation simulation and validation work will be conducted at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and NMSU respectively;
  • bio-crude extraction methods will continue to be developed at Washington State University;
  • quantitative modeling of the unit operations and integrated processes will occur at Pan Pacific Technologies, Algenol Biofuels and Argonne National Laboratory; and
  • Algenol Biofuels also will provide closed cultivation systems that dramatically reduce water losses to evaporation and enhance the stability of algae cultures.

The REAP award follows two other federal awards for the NMSU Algal Bioenergy team – Department of Energy funding through the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts consortium amounting to $700,000 over two years for NMSU to support the algal cultivation testbed located at the Fabian Garcia Science Center, and a National Science Foundation EPSCoR award for which NMSU will get $1.5 million over five years for the algal effort.

Australian Algae Production Test Site Completed

auroraalgaeAn Australian algae company has completed a new test cultivation site. Biofuels Journal reports Aurora Algae, working Durack Institute of Technology, Aurora Algae finished building the new facility in Geraldton, Western Australia. The project will evaluate the potential in that area the production of microalgae and adds to Aurora Algae’s pilot-scale algae cultivation facility in Karratha, Western Australia that produces up to 15 tonnes of dried algal biomass per month.

“We have fully leveraged the Karratha site, demonstrating the efficient functioning of a small-scale operation, while continuing to refine our cultivation and harvesting processes,” said Greg Bafalis, CEO of Aurora Algae. “With the Karratha site, we believe we have demonstrated the most technologically advanced algae production system in the world. Having achieved this milestone, we are now preparing for the commercial production stage of our operation, beginning with a careful evaluation of various additional potential cultivation sites.”

Geraldton, approximately 1,000 kilometres south of Karratha, is one potential commercial site location being evaluated by Aurora.

“Beyond favorable weather conditions and proximity to the coast, Geraldton also offers a stable, local work force and the additional benefit of being home to the Batavia Coast Marine Institute, whose facilities provide a great environment for ongoing research and development activities,” Mr. Bafalis explained.

Part of Durack Institute of Technology, the Batavia Coast Maritime Institute (BCMI) is a state of the art training, research and development facility located at Separation Point in Geraldton.

Durack officials say their facilities, expertise and infrastructure should help with the evaluation stage.

Highlighting Algae’s Potential for Biofuels & More

ABOA trade organization for the algae industry is trying to raise awareness of the green goo’s potential to serve as a feedstock for biofuels and more. The Algae Biomass Organization launched its second annual “Summer of Algae” campaign that will feature a series of open-house style events and news announcements to give “local and national officials an opportunity to experience the research, products and jobs being created by leading algae companies and research institutions.”

The events feature a wide range of technologies and end products, and stretch from coast-to-coast, including: Algenol (Florida); Algix (Alabama); Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences (Maine); Duke Energy (Kentucky); Matrix Genetics (Washington); Montana State University (Montana); Sapphire Energy (New Mexico and California); and the University of Arizona (Arizona).

“As members of Congress return to their districts, it’s a great time for ABO’s members to showcase their technologies and products, and how they are creating jobs, economic development and domestic supplies of sustainable fuel, food and feed from algae,” said Mary Rosenthal, executive director of ABO. “As concerns mount about water supplies, drought and high gas prices, the algae industry continues to deliver on its promise of a sustainable solution to fuel and chemicals, human health and animal nutrition.

The “Summer of Algae” culminates in the 7th annual Algae Biomass Summit in Orlando, Florida September 30th – October 3rd. You can register for the event here.

From Toilet to Tank

The All-gas project, funded by the European Union, has achieved a milestone: successful crop of algae biomass at its site in Chiclana in Southern Spain. The goal of the project is to develop low-cost biofuel from algae grown in wastewater. The All-gas project proposes using this wastewater, as well as CO2, generated in biomass boilers from residuals such as garden waste or olive pits to feed the algae, which in turn are converted into biogas. A part of the biogas is CO2, which gets separated from the biomethane and recycled.

According to a news release, the algae crop has produced outstanding results – the biomass obtained shows a particularly high energy potential relative to its digestibility level, with a methane production capacity of around 200-300 litres of gas per kilogram of biomass processed by anaerobic digestion. The microalgae also successfully purified wastewater.

Launched in May 2011, the five-year project has already completed its pilot phase (the first two years) in a 200 square meter facility. The plans for the construction of the biomass plant are on schedule, and a one-hectare prototype is under construction. The project’s final phase will span 10 hectares – the equivalent of ten football fields – believed to be the largest in the world.

All-gas ProjectIt is expected that by 2016, the biofuel produced by the All-gas project will be enough to power 200 vehicles. When the project reaches its demonstration phase, the biogas produced will be used to power public buses and garbage trucks in the region of Cadiz.

According to Frank Rogalla, Project Coordinator and FCC Aqualia’s Director of Innovation and Technology, “This original new approach to bioenergy means that Spain’s 40 million population could power 200,000 vehicles every year with a single toilet flush. The All-gas project is going to change the face of wastewater treatment by generating a valuable energy resource from what was previously considered undesirable waste.”

As Nicolas Aragon, Chiclana’s environmental councilor, adds, “This is not only an R&D project, but also a way of reducing costs and investing in the protection of our natural environment. Chiclana is a worldwide tourist destination and from now on, we will show that along with attracting visitors with our sunshine and beaches, we can also grow sustainable biofuel with our natural resources.”

The All-Gas consortium is led by FCC Aqualia, and comprises five other organisations, from Germany (Fraunhofer – Gesellschaft), Austria (BDI), the Netherlands (Feyecon y Hygear) and the UK (University of Southampton).

New Biofuels Projects Announced by DOE

During remarks at the Energy Department’s (DOE) Biomass 2013 annual conference, Secretary Ernest Moniz highlighted the important role biofuels play in the Administration’s Climate Action Plan to increase our energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions algae photobioreactorsfrom the transportation sector. During the event, Secretary Moniz announced over $22 million in new investments to help develop cost-competitive algae fuels and streamline the biomass feedstock supply chain for advanced biofuels.

“By partnering with industry and universities, we can help make clean, renewable biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline, give drivers more options at the pump and cut harmful carbon pollution,” said Moniz.

The research projects announced build on the DOE’s broader efforts to bring next generation biofuels online, with the goal of producing cost-competitive drop-in biofuels by 2017 and algae biofuels by 2022.

Nearly $16.5 million was given to four projects located in California, Hawaii and New Mexico aimed at breaking down technical barriers and accelerating the development of sustainable, affordable algae biofuels. The projects will help boost the productivity of sustainable algae, while cutting capital and operating costs of commercial-scale production. The projects include:

  • Hawaii Bioenergy ($5 million DOE investment): Based in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii Bioenergy will develop a cost-effective photosynthetic open pond system to produce algal oil. The project will also demonstrate preprocessing technologies that reduce energy use and the overall cost of extracting lipids and producing fuel intermediates.
  • Sapphire Energy ($5 million DOE investment): Headquartered in San Diego, California, Sapphire Energy will develop a new process to produce algae-based fuel that is compatible with existing refineries. The project will also work on improving algae strains and increasing yield through cultivation improvements.
  • New Mexico State University ($5 million DOE investment): For its project, New Mexico State University will increase the yield of a microalgae, while developing harvesting and cultivation processes that lower costs and support year-round production.
  • California Polytechnic State University ($1.5 million DOE investment): California Polytechnic State University will conduct research and development work to increase the productivity of algae strains and compare two separate processing technologies. The project will be based at a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Delhi, California that has six acres of algae ponds.  Continue reading

Sapphire Energy Pays Off USDA Loan

Sapphire Energy has paid off the entire loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In December 2009, the company was awarded $54.5 million through the Biorefinery Assistance Program, administered by the USDA Rural Development-Cooperative Service (and one of the energy programs in jeopardy in the current House version of its farm bill). The funds were to be used to build a fully integrated, algae-to-crude oil commercial demonstration facility in Columbus, New Mexico In partnership with the USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The result known as the Green Crude Farm is completed and was built on budget. Today, the Farm is operational and producing renewable crude oil on a continuous basis. As a result of the USDA’s loan guarantee and DOE’s support, Sapphire Energy is now producing renewable crude oil, and is in the process of scaling up the technology.

“The investments being made in low-carbon biofuel production are paying off and moving technologies forward, which will produce savings at the pump for consumers, and spur sustainable, new-wealth creation here in the United States, and make our land more productive,” said Doug O’Brien, Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development.

The operational crude oil farm has led to additional investment in the company and commercial partnerships. The company repaid the remaining loan balance in full after Sapphire Green Crude Photo Joanna Schroederreceiving additional equity from private investors, making the loan no longer necessary to complete the next, planned phase of development. According to Sapphire Energy, the early repayment of this loan and on-target development roadmap for Sapphire Energy’s algae crude oil technologies further solidifies the USDA’s role in catalyzing new energy technologies in rural communities, increasing domestic energy production, and creating new jobs. The USDA’s investment has advanced the use of algae as a feedstock to produce crude oil and as a viable new crop to produce homegrown energy while creating valuable rural economies.

“Sapphire Energy is very grateful to the USDA for supporting algae crude oil as an alternative source of energy as well as our vision to make this industry a reality,” said Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. “With their backing, we did exactly what we set out to do. We grew our company, advanced our algae technologies, and built, on time and on budget, the first, fully operational, commercial demonstration, algae-to-energy facility that delivers a proven process for producing refinery-ready Green Crude oil.”

“We could not have built this first of a kind facility without the support of the USDA. Moving forward, our focus is on commercializing our technology and expanding operations to bring crude oil production to commercial demonstration scale as planned,” she added.

Researchers Look to Remove Algae for Biofuel

Blersch-Algae1One of the scourges of lakes during summertime is an algae bloom. While some algae serves as an important part of the food chain, other varieties can become too plentiful and kill off large amounts of wild fish. Researchers from the University of Buffalo are looking at ways to remove that slimy, green mess and turn it into useful materials, such as biofuels.

Funded by a $30,000 Rochester Institute of Technology grant, [David] Blersch, an environmental engineer at the University at Buffalo, and his students built a system that pumps water ashore down two, 40-foot-long flumes.

The water is recycled into the lake but it leaves behind microscopic cells that form miniature algae blooms. Blersch vacuums the algae and bottles samples to study. He is creating a database that will help scientists, government, industry and others gauge the algae’s potential uses.

“One element of the project is pollution recovery. By using the algae beds to remove excess nutrients from the lake, we can improve water quality,” says Blersch, PhD, research assistant professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The other aspect is studying its properties; is it viable to turn algae into biofuels, fertilizer or other commercial products?”

The technology is being looked at to help clean up and possibly collect algae to make into biofuels in other important watershed, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades. In addition, companies, such as Exxon Mobil, which has invested $100 million since 2009 in algae biofuels, are helping move the process along.

A New Use for Algae in Biofuel Production

According to an article in the journal Phycologia, a recent research study examined a promising freshwater algal strain for possible genetic engineering applications that could make it a viable biofuel. The research, conducted by a research team in Japan, was aimed at reducing the time from research to commercial production of algal-based biofuels.

Phycologia52.4.coverThe article takes an in-depth look at the genetic structure of a unicellular green alga, Botryococcus braunii, and explores its unique ability to be utilized in the genetic engineering of biofuel development. Botryococcus braunii was initially selected for large-scale biofuel production because of its extraordinary ability to synthesize large amounts of hydrocarbon oils.

Several difficulties were encountered in the initial production and harvesting processes, leaving it by the wayside. However, this latest research reintroduces B. braunii as the perfect vehicle for genetic engineering applications when compared with three other species of green algae, five species of land plants, and eight other phyla species, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and mammals.

The research focused on the codon usage, or DNA compatibility, of B. braunii with the other organisms. Codon usage for this particular alga is one of the fundamental genetic markers that had not been explored. Codons are greatly affected by the vast amount of guanines (G) and cytosines (C), two of the four nucleotides that make up a DNA molecule. Many green algal species having high GC content, which causes codon usage bias, or poor compatibility, with other organisms. Surprisingly, B. braunii had comparatively low GC content and its codon usage was similar to that of bacteria, mammals, and land plants.

Although further study is necessary, the researchers found that the ability of B. braunii to synthesize hydrocarbons, combined with the newly discovered codon usage and GC content data, could lead to new genetic engineering techniques that could hasten biofuel development and production.

Algae Biomass Summit: A Must Attend

The Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) will be hosting its 7th annual Algae Biomass Summit this fall, September 30-October 3, 2013 in Orlando, Florida. To get an overview of ABO logokey speakers and topics, I turned to ABO Executive Director Mary Rosenthal. To date, Rosenthal said that have nearly 100 speakers confirmed along with a huge poster presentation and more than 60 exhibitors.

One of the key sessions, according to Rosenthal, is, “The Algae Fuel Solution – Updates from Algenol Biofuels, Sapphire Energy and Federal Express”. The session will be moderated by Tim Portz, Executive Editor, Biomass Magazine and panelists include Paul Woods, CEO, Algenol Biofuels;  Cynthia “CJ” Warner, CEO & Chairman, Sapphire Energy Inc; and Joel Murdock, Managing Director, Federal Express.

MR Edited HeadshotBecause of the changing nature of the industry, Rosenthal said they will be following this session with a presentation focused on “beyond fuels” or a session discussing feed, nutrition, specialty chemicals and products. This session will be moderated by Jim Lane, Editor and Publisher of Biofuels Digest, and panelists include Tim Burns, President, BioProcess Algae; Dan Simon, President & CEO, Heliae; Mike Van Drunen, CEO & Founder, Algix LLC; and Greg Bafalis, CEO, Aurora Algae.

I asked, politics aside, why the algae industry is such a great industry. “You have to look at algae and what it provides. It’s efficient at producing oil, you have superior yields, you don’t use valuable agricultural land, and we don’t take away from food crops,” Rosenthal explained, who also noted that the industry doesn’t take away from fresh water resources. “And we have the potential to recycle carbon from industrial power plants and re-mediate waste water.”

In addition to the sessions, there will also be some pre and post-conference tours. Rosenthal said she is especially excited about the visit to Algenol’s commercial development campus that includes 70,000 square feet of world-class molecular biology, culture collection, physiology, aquaculture, analytical chemistry and engineering laboratories.

All of these topics and more will be discussed during the Summit. To learn more about the Algae Biomass Summit and to register online, click here.

Listen to my interview with ABO Executive Director Mary Rosenthal here:Algae Biomass Summit: A Must Attend

Sapphire, Linde Partner to Turn Algae into Crude Oil

SapphireLindeSan Diego-based Green Crude – oil made from algae – producer Sapphire Energy, Inc. and German gasses and engineering company The Linde Group have partnered to commercialize a new industrial scale technology to turn algae biomass into crude oil. The five-year deal is to go through the development of Sapphire Energy’s first commercial scale, algae-to-energy production facility.

“Sapphire Energy is very pleased to build upon its already successful strategic partnership with Linde to build a commercial oil upgrading process designed to increase yield and lower the cost of crude oil production,” said Cynthia ‘CJ’ Warner, CEO and chairman of Sapphire Energy. “Large energy projects like we are building require very significant partnerships to fund the development of new technologies and make available engineering resources needed to bring these projects on line at commercial scale. We think Linde is a perfect partner to help Sapphire achieve this goal.”

“We have been working with Sapphire Energy for two years to develop a cost-efficient CO2 delivery system for commercial algae production. We have become confident with the company’s expertise and its capability to produce a low carbon and economic energy source from algae. After the positive experience gained, we decided to intensify our cooperation with Sapphire,” said Professor Dr. Aldo Belloni, Member of the Executive Board of Linde AG. “Based upon our profound engineering expertise, we will contribute to further develop and scale up Sapphire’s algae-to-crude-oil technology.”

Linde and Sapphire Energy energy have been working on a low cost, CO2 management system for open pond, algae-to-fuel production, since May 2011.

Algae Products Producer Gets Expansion Funding

heliaeAn Arizona-based producer of algae products, including biofuels, has secured nearly $30 million in funding that it hopes to use to expand its operation. Biofuels Journal reports Heliae raised the $28.4 million that will be used for support and expansion of its first commercial facility in Gilbert, Ariz., set to startup this September.

“With Heliae’s first commercial plant on schedule for startup in the third quarter, the company is in the final stages of proving the viability of our flexible Volaris™ production platform and demonstrating economics at a commercial scale,” said Dan Simon, president and CEO of Heliae.

“It’s an exciting time for Heliae and the sustained support of existing investors, as well as the addition of new investors, demonstrates our momentum and continued success in scale-up.”

Heliae’s flexible Volaris platform combines the best of existing algae production models, utilizing both sunlight and low-cost carbon feedstocks to optimize output.

Volaris is a mixotrophic algae production platform, a hybrid of known phototrophic and heterotrophic models, which affords decreased capital costs, reduced contamination and increased productivity and product optionality.

The plant is being built in two phases, with the first phase delivering high-value nutraceuticals made under high light conditions and the second making a personal care product in lower light conditions.