Algae production – agribusiness of the near future

Alga oil is used to produce biodiesel. But the process has been very costly. However in recent times, scientists believe they can produce bio-fuel from algae that is cheap enough to compete with crude oil.

Recently at a forum tagged Agribusiness and the Marketplace, Biola Ogunrinde, managing director of Tropical Natural Limited, producer of Dudu Osun soap, while x-raying various business options in agribusiness affirmed that alga oil will replace crude oil. He therefore identified it as one of the agribusinesses of the future that investors interested in creating wealth from agribusiness should look into.

According to published reports by Algae Production Systems, based in Texas, USA, these algae which produce bio-fuel are microscopic plants referred to as green algae found in all aquatic environments, including marine, freshwater and brackish water. There are about 6,000 species of green algae. Many species live most of their lives as single-cells, other species form colonies or long filaments.

Because these algae reproduce very fast, researchers have discovered that these micro-organisms can produce 50,000 gallons of bio-fuel per acre of the area they occupy. The experts say production rates of over 100,000 gallons per acre per year is achievable using a system called closed photo bio-reactor systems.

Process

According to the report by Agricultural Production Systems, the algae are harvested from the growing biomass as algae paste. They are then de-watered either by heat drying or de-watering presses. Centrifuges are also another way in which the algae paste can be de-watered.

The oil is then separated from the paste either by a chemical process or by pressing in a high pressure device such as a screw press. The finished product is alga oil in a form that is then suitable for use through another process to make bio-fuel.

Advantages

Researchers also reveal that current bio-fuel obtained from crops such as soybeans, Camelina, rape seed, and Jatropha are in the 200 to 400 gallon per acre per year range. According to them, palm oil is a little better with 400 to 700 gallons per acre per year. These production rates of course fall far short of the production rates per acre of algae which is currently delivering up to 50,000 gallons of oil per acre per year from open pond systems.

According to the researchers, the most recent developments in alga oil production systems using genetically engineered Algae strains indicate that production rates with “closed photobioreactors” will exceed 100,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year.

Bio-fuel, is of course, a more environmentally friendly, renewable fuel with little or no noxious gas release during the process of combustion. The production of bio-diesel requires one eighth of the energy required to produce ethanol and is usable in its undiluted state. The demand for bio-diesel for use in all sectors currently serviced by petro-diesel is projected to grow at an exponential rate.

The other available feed-stocks for use in the bio-diesel production process have been unable to meet the increasing demand. Alga oil can be produced at rates of up to 500 times the production rate per acre of any other source of vegetable oil.

Edibles

Bio-fuels can also be got from cassava, maize and quite a number of edibles, particularly grains but the exploration of bio-fuels from these food crops as an alternative to fossil fuels (crude oil) has been hindered by increased demand for food as a result of growing population all over the world. Countries would rather use the food to feed their people than use them as bio-fuel, so alga oil is the best option because alga is not eaten by humans.

Feeding

Algae need light and stagnant water which result in nitrates build-up to grow. According to scientists, if phosphates are present, they will also promote algae growth. An investor may simply choose to reproduce algae for sale to producers of bio-diesel.

Investors

Alga oil producers already see Nigeria as a good investment location for algae and its bio-fuel production. Ohad Zuckerman, chief executive, Univerve, an Israeli firm, said in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay during the 2012 Agritech show in Tel Aviv, “We have a complete system of producing bio-fuel from micro-algae. These are unicellular photo-synthetic organisms that live in water.

“During their photosynthesis, they take in carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and transform it to protein, carbohydrate and oil. We take the oil and make bio-fuel out of it. The remaining biomass from this process can then be used in making fish feeds.”

He explained his company’s interest in Nigeria, saying: “We are growing micro-algae in the laboratories in Israel and we are looking at scaling them up. We have strong reasons for thinking Nigeria is a good market.

“We have already started utilisation of micro-algae in Israel and we consider Nigeria the best location for Africa. The feasibility study shows that the best locations are places that have enough resources of plant, water, sun and fields to do the processing.”

He then explained the business. “The business has lots of advantages. Microalgae farms will generate employment for the people. There are no negative effects of producing bio-fuels from micro-algae, it is a biological process,” he explained.

 

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