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OriginOil Has a Vision for Urban Algae Biofuel Farming

OriginOil foresees urban algae farming

For all you urban energy harvesters out there, here’s a little something to go with your micro wind turbine and your rooftop solar thermal-electric array: a small-scale, energy-efficient system for harvesting algae in preparation for producing algae biofuel. Called the Model 4 Algae Appliance™ harvester, it was developed by the U.S. company OriginOil to enable small-scale algae farming at building complexes and other tight urban spaces.

Urban Algae Biofuel Farming

The Model 4 is a down-sized version of a system that was originally designed for large-scale commercial microalgae farming. It is about to get its first test at the La Défense complex near Paris (France not Texas, but oh well). The project is a collaboration with the wastewater-to-energy company Ennesys.

In one of those green twofers that we at CleanTechnica love to hear about, Ennesys proposes an operation that would use the wastewater from the buildings to provide nutrients to the growing algae (NASA is backing a similar algae project, btw), so the farming operation will also double as an energy-efficient wastewater management system.

Finding an inexpensive way to separate the fully grown microalgae from its watery environment is one of the key challenges for producing cost-competitive microalgae biofuel, and this is the part that the Algae Appliance addresses.

The algae-water solution requires no pretreatment. The Algae Appliance subjects it to carefully calibrated electromagnetic pulses, which cause the algae to clump together, making it easier to extract almost all of the excess water.

The device also provides a low-energy way to crack open the cell walls of the algae in order to extract the oil.

Buildings as Green Energy Dynamos

If this first test proves successful, it will help mark the beginnings of a total flip in the relationship between energy and buildings.

Throughout modern history, buildings have always been the consumers of energy. Currently, in the U.S., they use about 30 percent of all energy (in Europe, it’s about 40 percent), but now they are becoming platforms for energy generation, in the form of building-integrated solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

Here in the U.S., that transformation is occurring largely on a voluntary basis. The Obama Administration is providing a boost through programs like the Better Buildings Initiative, which is designed to develop new energy-efficient strategies and technologies for buildings.

France has taken a different tack by establishing a mandatory deadline for achieving Positive Energy Buildings (BEPOS) status.


Green Fuel, Green Jobs

OriginOil has been moving forward on a number of other fronts that could help create new green jobs in the U.S.

The company recently joined with algae grower Aquaviridis on a project in Mexico that is expected to be the model for additional algae farms in that country and in the southwestern U.S.

OriginOil has also partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to help develop an integrated algae-to-oil system that would enable algae growers to produce crude algae oil that can compete on price with crude oil. The goal is to produce algae oil that can be sold directly to existing petroleum refineries and processed on a drop-in basis, helping to preserve jobs in the refinery sector while creating new green jobs.

Image: Some rights reserved by woodleywonderworks.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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