The algae biofuel company OriginOil has been pulling out all the stops to bring low cost algae biofuel to the market, and Operation Green Stick looks like their biggest move yet. Operation Green Stick is the code name for OriginOil’s network of sensors that automatically control for hundreds of variables in commercial-scale algae biofuel operations. The system will get its first shakeout with the Australian algae company MBD Energy. If all goes well, U.S. companies won’t be – well, shouldn’t be – far behind. After all, according to some researchers algae biofuel is practically a first cousin to fossil fuels.
OriginOil and Operation Green Stick
OriginOil has already figured out how to grow algae with less space by using lenses to divert solar energy deeper into algae ponds, and they figured out an efficient way to “crack” the algae and separate the oil by gravity. Operation Green Stick is a way to simplify a commercial scale algae biofuel operation that combines algae production with the extraction process. It monitors the biology of the process (the algae growth) with the engineering side (dewatering and extraction) in seamless real time. The system is a twofer: it makes the whole process more efficient, and it also reduces the risk of contamination, which would require an expensive remediation operation.
A Killer App for Algae Biofuel
OriginOil CEO and Chairman Riggs Eckelberry is a guest columnist at Algae Industry Magazine, and earlier this spring he wrote about algae biofuel’s killer app: carbon capture. Algae need carbon dioxide to thrive, and two tons of carbon dioxide can be converted to one ton of algae. It’s a far safer method than sequestering CO2 underground, so you’d imagine that power plants would be eager to recruit algae biofuel operations. Well maybe yes, if they had a legislative framework that incentivizes carbon capture. As Eckelberry points out, “a strong national government policy makes all the difference,” and right now the majority party in the House of Representatives is moving out of the greenhouse gas regulation business.
More Incentives for Algae Biofuel
If carbon capture isn’t enough incentive, there are plenty of other reasons to promote algae biofuel. There’s the biofuel, of course, and secondary products like algae feed for cattle and bioplastics. Eckelberry also notes that siting an algae operations at sewage treatment plants can provide a low cost way of removing excess nitrogen and phosphorus directly from the effluent stream. OriginOil already has a demo project in place so expect to hear more about this some time in the future.
Image: Algae by Qfamily on flickr.com
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.