Algenol Biofuels, a Florida biofuels startup and DOW Chemical Company announced a pilot-scale algae-based integrated biorefinery that will convert CO2 into ethanol. The patented technology developed by Algenol Biofuels uses CO2, salt water, sunlight and non-arable land to produce ethanol, which can be used as a fuel or as a feedstock, replacing natural gas, in the production of plastic. The algae is grown in long plastic covered troughs, called bioreactors that are filled with salt water that has been saturated with carbon dioxide gas, which provides the carbon the algae needs for photosynthesis.
Algenol’s has developed an algal biofuel production process that yields over 6,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year. This is around 15 times as much ethanol per acre per year as is produced by corn ethanol. Algenol’s claims its process achieves a respectable ERoEI of more than 5 to 1 and a life cycle carbon footprint that is just 20 percent of petroleum or in other words an 80 percent reduction from petroleum.
The project calls for installing 3,400 bioreactors on a 24 acre site to be located at Dow’s Freeport, Texas site. The pilot plant could produce up to 100,000 gallons of ethanol a year and will create 300 green jobs. The company had applied to the Energy Department for financing under the stimulus bill, but would build a pilot plant with or without a grant, he said.
A useful bi-product of the algae photobioreaction process is oxygen. Paul Woods Algenol’s chief executive has said that the oxygen by-product could be used to burn coal in a nearby power plant cleanly. The exhaust from that type of plant would would be mostly carbon dioxide, which could be reused to make more algae. More work needs to be done to improve the separation process to economically extract the oxygen from the water. The Georgia Institute of Technology and Membrane Technology and Research, a startup company based in Menlo Park, California will work with Algenol Biofuels to help improve the process.
“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.
Dow also plans to develop the advanced materials and specialty films for the photobioreactor system. In addition, Dow will also provide the technology and expertise related to water treatment solutions and will provide Algenol with access to a CO2 source for the biorefinery from a nearby Dow manufacturing facility. The CO2 will be supplied to the algae in the photobioreactors and will serve as the carbon source for the ethanol produced. The result is a CO2 capture process which converts industrially derived CO2 into more sustainable fuels and chemicals.
Algenol submitted its formal request last week to obtain a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for financial support to successfully conduct the pilot. Upon approval of the grant, Dow and the other collaborators will work with Algenol to demonstrate the technology at a level to sufficiently prove that it can be implemented on a commercial scale.
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