Algae-Filled Greenhouses Aim to Take in CO2 and Turn out Biofuel

By Eliza Strickland | October 21, 2008 3:37 pm

algae 3A green technology company that turns pond scum into biofuel has announced plans to build the first commercial-scale algae farm, a $92 million complex of greenhouses that are expected to eventually cover 247 acres. The company, GreenFuel Technologies, wants to recycle carbon dioxide from factories and power plants, and will use that gas plus sunshine to nourish its algae fields. The process provides two environmental benefits in one, as it simultaneously absorbs carbon dioxide emissions and provides a renewable source of fuel.

As prices for vegetable oils used to make biofuels has remained high, algae advocates have looked upon the slime as a possible savior. After all, algae are oily and could potentially produce more oil per acre than palm or other oil-yielding crops. Companies haven’t yet succeeded in producing algae affordably and at significant volumes in spite of years of research and development, but a number of venture-backed companies cropped up to take on the challenge [Greentech Media]. While the companies Sapphire Energy and Solazyme have also garnered attention and funding, GreenFuel Technologies seems to have beat the competition to the punch on commercializing its technology.

The company has had some difficulty getting to this point: GreenFuel Technologies originally tested its algae-growing process in plastic bags with an Arizona utility. That project ran into trouble when the cost of harvesting the algae biomass was too high [CNET]. The algae also grew faster than it could be harvested, leading to large die-offs. But company executives say that they’ve developed a speedy, automatic harvester that has been working well with a 100-square-meter test site.

The new algae greenhouses are being constructed in Spain next to a cement factory, which will provide the carbon dioxide; when the project reaches its full size in 2011 it will use 10 percent of the factory’s carbon dioxide emissions. The funding is being provided by the Spanish renewable energy company Aurantia, which has big plans for the humble slime. “We believe algae hold great promise for Spain as they can be harvested daily, rather than seasonally, use water very efficiently and do not require arable land like other crops,” Rafael Naranjo, Aurantia Group’s chief executive and chairman [AP].

Related Content:
80beats: Super-Green, Algae-Derived Jet Fuel Passes Tests With Flying Colors
DISCOVER: The Second Coming of Biofuels

Image: flickr/brewbooks

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • Kevin Yang

    i think,that biofuel is great,and that cars should quit oil,and try,biofuel!

  • Chad

    Growing algae indoors will never work. There is a nice technical article floating on the net somewhere that clearly illustrates that the amount of light that hits a greenhouse is simply not enough to justify the capital cost of building one, at any reasonable level of photosynthetic efficiency.

  • Bob Downs

    Please don’t say ‘never’.

    Focused research in this area, including genetic micro-organism development, should be
    able to produce an economical alternative to fossil fuels.

    I’m betting on it!

  • Rich Wilson

    I suggest that those who think Greenfuel Technologies will be the first to commercialize algae to oil that they access Green Star Products’ website. Green Star has had a successful 40,000 liter test site in Montana and is now preparing for a 1,000 acre site in Missouri.

  • jeanne rogers

    Why are we trying to plant new things to make bio fuel. We have enough stuff we would like to get rid of. Any plannt or animal remains can make bio fuel. How about the water hiasents that are chocking florida’s waterways. How about using methane its every where and cheep. Or how about using our garbage of all kinds we have the tecknologly why don’t we use it.

  • mr.khani

    Dear Sir
    Hello
    I am managing director of a company called ‘Mehr Pakhsh.
    We are planning to produce Bio diesel , using alga oil. Nice to know that until now there has been no one working on alga production in an industrial way and oil extraction of that in IRAN

    I have visited your web site and have some questions
    1- if you have any interest to have a representative in IRAN ?
    2- if yes, under which situation?
    It will be great if you will answer as soon as possible.

    Best regards

    Roohollah Khani

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    I spoke too soon in saying that GreenFuel looked likely to be the first to commercialize algae biofuel tech. The company went out of business in May!

  • KOZM

    Yeah. I was there. Decline & fall; out of business. Another cautionary tale.

  • Ankita Sinha

    Hello sir,
    I am a student from India pursuing MSc. in microbiology i find this idea to be great because biofuel is the need of future we even need to find new alternatives .
    thank you

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