Algae Farm Aims to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Posted on June 30, 2009  Comments (5)

Algae Farm Aims to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Dow Chemical and Algenol Biofuels, a start-up company, are set to announce Monday that they will build a demonstration plant that, if successful, would use algae to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol as a vehicle fuel or an ingredient in plastics.

“We give them the oxygen, we get very pure carbon dioxide, and the output is very cheap ethanol,” said Mr. Woods, who said the target price was $1 a gallon.

Algenol grows algae in “bioreactors,” troughs covered with flexible plastic and filled with saltwater. The water is saturated with carbon dioxide, to encourage growth of the algae. “It looks like a long hot dog balloon,” Mr. Woods said.

The company has 40 bioreactors in Florida, and as part of the demonstration project plans 3,100 of them on a 24-acre site at Dow’s Freeport, Tex., site. Among the steps still being improved is the separation of the oxygen and water from the ethanol. The Georgia Institute of Technology will work on that process, as will Membrane Technology and Research, a company in Menlo Park, Calif. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an Energy Department lab, will study carbon dioxide sources and their impact on the algae samples.

Algenol and its partners are planning a demonstration plant that could produce 100,000 gallons a year. The company and its partners were spending more than $50 million, said Mr. Woods, but not all of that was going into the pilot plant.

Initial proof of science was generated by Dr. John Coleman at the University of Toronto between 1989 and 1999. Since then, the process has been refined to allow algae to tolerate high heat, high salinity, and the alcohol levels present in ethanol production. This is another example of the benefit of university research and investing in science and engineering innovation.

Related: Ethanol: Science Based Solution or Special Interest WelfareConverting Emissions to BiofuelsStudent Algae Bio-fuel ProjectKudzu Biofuel PotentialGlobal Installed Wind Power Now Over 1.5% of Global Electricity Demand

5 Responses to “Algae Farm Aims to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel”

  1. Catharine
    June 30th, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

    As an expert in swimming pools and pool maintenance, I run into the opposite problem of trying to counteract alage daily. I also have experience in the renewable energy sector, specifically solar energy. So as you can imagine, I have heard of the algae production method before and dedicated some effort towards understanding it. However, the one insurmountable problem that I keep coming up with is simply one of resource allocation. The amount of land required to have vast pools for algae production and maintaining the proper conditions to promote optimal algae growth – as well as the actualy process involved in refracting the ethanol is far better spent on different sources of energy such as wind and or solar (depending on the prevailing conditions of the terrain). It seems of course a noble enterprise, and should undoubtedly be researched – but at present it seems to lag far behind other sources of energy. As a point of thought? How much ethanol could be manufactured from 24 acres of sugarcane or corn? would it be comparable to the algae process – anybody know?

  2. Anonymous
    July 9th, 2009 @ 9:34 am

    How weird! Its about time people came up with some different alternatives to petrol, as we all know its running low. And electric cars really arnt suitable to day to day living.

  3. Noel
    July 20th, 2009 @ 10:01 am

    I think this is an excellent idea as not alone does it produce relatively clean energy but it also uses carbon dioxide which in itself is worthwhile

  4. Mouli Cohen
    July 23rd, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    Pretty extreme that Exxon has started investing in Algae, times are changing when one of the old dinosaurs starts looking for future solutions.

  5. Mouli Cohen
    July 24th, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    Fascinating article, this is the kind of research that makes one look forward to the future instead of fearing it.

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