DAPHNE, Alabama — About two years ago Daphne Utilities partnered with Algae Systems, and with backing from the Japanese engineering firm IHI, they began a pilot test that takes algae mixed with wastewater and turns it into drinking water and bio-crude oil. Algae Systems is… now looking for a place to set up a large-scale commercial site.
“I’m very hopeful that we are going to be able to sort it out so that we can go to the commercial site also on Mobile Bay,” John Perry Barlow, Algae Systems vice president of corporate relations, told AL.com. “We recognize that a huge asset at the moment is the nature of this community.”
Barlow said he hopes the company will decide on a site by the end of October.
Rob McElory will soon leave his position as General Manager of Daphne Utilities to become Algae Systems’ vice president of operations and market development. The change is scheduled to officially take effect on Thursday, and Daniel Lyndall will move from assistant general manager to general manager of Daphne Utilities.
McElroy said there are between 15 and 17 sites that are being considered for the commercial algae treatment process, and Algae Systems would be looking to at least handle a million gallons of wastewater treatment a day.
McElroy said Algae Systems tested the scalability of the project and it worked fine, however they’re now in the process of modularizing the process.
The pilot site is a half-acre of bags that handle 40,000 gallons of wastewater treatment a day. To modularize, if 80,000 gallons of wastewater treatment was needed, one acre of bags would be used.
How it works
“We literally start with a single cell of local algae,” McElroy said. The algae is raised until it reaches an adequate volume then it’s put into bags and mixed with disinfected wastewater. McElroy said, “We basically just feed the plant.” Also, CO2 is scrubbed out of the atmosphere and fed to the algae. “Just like a tree, algae breathes in CO2 and breathes out oxygen and by doing so we actually produce a carbon negative fuel, which is the first carbon negative fuel ever made,” McElroy said.
The algae and disinfected wastewater mixed in the bag, sits on top of Mobile Bay, is warmed by the sun and is mixed by wave action. After four to six days the algae has stopped growing and is pumped to shore, McElroy said.
The algae is separated from the water, and the water can be filtered down to drinking water. When the algae and water mix is about 10 percent algae, McElroy said it can be put into a process called hydrothermal liquefaction. After the mixture is heated at about 600 degrees Fahrenheit for four minutes, the solution is crude oil. That oil can then be further refined into any fuel.
Why it’s unique
- The bags that Algae Systems uses are made from materials that Nike provides, according to McElroy.
- “There are a lot of people who try to raise algae to make fuel, and the economics of that are sometimes tough. And there are a lot of people out there trying to just treat wastewater with algae, and the economics of that are tough,” McElroy said. “This is one of the first times that anybody has ever really tried to connect those two and take it from all the way to waste water to all the way to crude oil…”
- McElroy said to make oil a lot of people are “squeezing the lipids out of the cells” and that uses a lot of energy. “The process we’ve developed, you don’t have to do anything like that. You just feed everything in there,” McElroy said.
How it’s funded
Several years ago Algae Systems was backed by IHI with $15 million. McElroy said the company uses certain amounts of the money as they reach certain benchmarks, and Algae Systems continues to operate off of that funding.
McElroy added that a couple of weeks ago Algae Systems received a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy in partnership with the Stanford Research Institute.
It all began with sewage spills
In 2005 Daphne Utilities initiated a cooking oil recycling program to combat sewage overflow issues. Daphne Utilities started receiving so much oil, they wanted to make good use of it so they began work with Kevin Jones of Earth Clean Technologies. A biodiesel plant was built to convert the oil to biodiesel at about 96 cents a gallon.
McElroy said Jones came across a tweet on Twitter from a man with Algae Systems saying they were developing a process to convert algae into fuel and were looking for a place to scale it up and do a pilot plan. Jones reached out to them and told them to come to Daphne, according to McElroy. Then the pilot test in Mobile Bay (which can be seen from Bayfront Park pier) began.
View original article at: Algae Systems commercial site could find home on Mobile Bay, representative says