Manufacturing Sustainability: Green Manufacturing News

Breakthrough Brings Algae Into Energy Spotlight

posted by William R. Stott
Published: March 25, 2009

A technological breakthrough that dramatically reduces the cost of removing water from algae – making algae an economically feasible source of fuel –  was announced by AlgaeVenture Systems following a demonstration of the process to a select group of collaborators and funding sources.

“For nearly 40 years, it has been widely accepted that if the cost of

removing, harvesting and dewatering algae could be reduced to $50 a ton, algae could become a significant source of fuel,” said Ross Youngs, CEO of Univenture, the parent corporation of AlgaeVenture Systems.

“Today we have demonstrated a truly disruptive technology that reduces that

cost by more than 99 percent – from $875 per ton to $1.92 per ton,” Youngs said. “We believe that this breakthrough moves algae back into the spotlight as an economically viable, plentiful source of fuel in the future.”

The AlgaeVenture Systems breakthrough comes at a time when interest in algae is on the rise. It was originally studied as an alternative energy source

after the 1970s oil embargo. However, the Department of Energy determined that even though algae offered significant capability to produce biofuels, the cost was prohibitive. The Department ended its algae program in 1996, but interest was revived when oil reached record prices in 2008.

Univenture established AlgaeVenture Systems to address the growth of algae in industrial and agricultural areas in Ohio and other areas of the Midwest that demonstrated opportunities for algae farms to be located near existing waste and waste sources. The company believes this creates the opportunity to develop a variety of products – including fuels – while cleaning up waste from land and water.

The company’s focus is to manufacture and install simplified greenhouse ponds near power plants, wastewater plants, farm waste facilities, food processing plants and other locations where the geography and climate support algae growth year-round.

“Algae farmers have the option to grow food, feed or fuel, and can change crops and be ready for harvest in less than 20 days,” Youngs said. “Algae can protect our fuel supplies because it can be grown virtually anywhere in the United States, and can benefit national security by decentralizing the fuel supply and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

The technology developed by AlgaeVenture Systems – studying processes that exist in nature – utilizes a variety of methods of moving water, including capillary effect, cohesion, absorption and transpiration pull – the method used by trees and plants to move water from their roots to the highest growth, often hundreds of feet straight up.

“The process is counterintuitive,” Youngs said, “because with so much water and so little algae, it is natural to want to move the algae. But moving the water instead is very efficient, and all water is recycled. In fact, there are circumstances where adding water actually improves separation and drying.”

According to their press release, AlgaeVenture Systems’ prototype is scalable and portable, and can be custom made to a customer’s specifications. While it was designed specifically for microalgae, the invention is also applicable to several other separating and dewatering applications.

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