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Voilà! US Algae Company Turns Sewage Into Biofuel, In France

Right around this time last summer we took note of a new US-France urban algae farming collaboration that combines algae biofuel production with wastewater treatment. Considering all the political poop that certain US legislators have lobbed in the direction of France over the past ten years or so, that’s a bit of poetic justice for you, especially since the project has been a success so far and it passed an important milestone last week.

algae farming produces biofuel and treats wastewater.

Green bubbles by nickstone333.

Urban Algae Farming

The companies behind the project are California-based OriginOil, Inc. and Ennesys, a partnership involving OriginOil and UK based Pacific Junction Corporation (Ennesys SAS was founded in France to provide a platform for the project).

The urban algae farming project involves a rooftop algae farm at the La Défense complex near Paris. Designed as a showcase to prove that urban buildings can generate more energy than they consume, the project got started last summer with the installation of OriginOil’s Model 4 “Algae Appliance.”

OriginOil developed the Model 4 specifically to enable small-scale urban algae farming. It’s a scaled-down version of the company’s  commercial microalgae farming and harvesting system.

Farming Algae, Treating Sewage, Making Biofuel

The latest milestone cranked up earlier this summer, with the installation of OriginOil’s proprietary Electro Water Separation™ system for wastewater treatment at the demonstration building. Last week the company was confident enough about its performance to pronounce it a success; in other words, the system is successfully treating wastewater generated on site by the building’s occupants.

The purified water provides irrigation for the algae farming operation. It also has an added kick since the treatment system converts urea in the wastewater to nitrates, creating a kind of fertile “superwater” that enhances algae growth.

Currently the system processes about 250,000 liters daily, and with a few more tweaks it should be able to handle even more.

When the algae is ready to be processed into fuel, the Algae Appliance uses electromagnetic pulses to make the algae clump together, providing an energy-efficient way to extract excess water.

It’s also worth noting that the bioreactors in which the algae grows can be installed on vertical surfaces as well as rooftops, which opens up a whole new opportunity for expanding urban algae farming.

It’s An Algae World, We Just Live In It

Like France, the US Navy’s algae biofuel initiatives have taken a lot of guff over the past few years, but for all the bluster coming from certain legislators there has been an impressive number of advances in algae farming and biofuel technology during this time.

Among other projects, OriginOil, for example, has developed a crude oil version of algae biofuel (also described here) that can be used on a drop-in basis at existing petroleum refineries, and it has embarked on a joint venture with Idaho National Laboratory to develop international algae biomass standards.


Last year the company also partnered with Minnesota-based Aquaviridis on a demonstration algae facility in Mexico, which could lead to a string of similar operations here in the southwest US.

Meanwhile, NASA is all over the algae farming/wastewater treatment combo. The agency is demonstrating a pilot facility for San Francisco, with the aim of showing that wastewater could be pumped into floating bags to provide nutrients for offshore algae farms.

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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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