In Fort Collins CO, Solix is currently working with a high-yield marine species called Nannochloropsis. Wastewater and carbon dioxide produced as byproducts of other commercial operations can serve as raw materials. The steps from green gunk to gas are relatively short, and microalgae also yield sugars and proteins that can be processed into plastics, animal feed and various pesticides.
The hardest part, as with many new technologies, is making product that is cost effective and that will fit into existing patterns of delivery and use. Solix says "algae-based fuels can be delivered through existing petroleum-industry infrastructure. In some instances, algal oil can be refined in the same refineries that produce gasoline." Solix also states that to be competitive with petroleum-based products it must aim for biocrude to sell between $75 and $100 per barrel.
Using algae for fuel is not new, but many initial trials used open ponds to grow raw biomass. This can lead to problems with contamination by unwanted organisms as well as taking up considerable real estate. Solix is banking on patented photo-bioreactors – algae bounded within transparent growing chambers – to solve those concerns. While more expensive than open pond systems, their AGSTM technology "allows for five times the surface level exposure to sunlight compared with open-pond systems." Colorado sites provide the long sunny days that get algae growing.
Dr. Stephen R. Humphrey, Director,
School of Natural Resources and Environment,
Box 116455, 103 Black Hall, University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-6455 USA
Tel. 352-392-9230, Fax 352-392-9748