Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley tours the progress at Daphne’s Algae Systems

DAPHNE, Alabama – Momentum for a renewable fuels start-up company along Mobile Bay in Daphne continued Wednesday with a visit from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and the announcement of a $3.2 million federal grant for its continued research in Baldwin County.

The positive push comes as officials with Algae Systems’ Daphne plant are aiming for an ambitious expansion goal of establishing a commercialized operation by next year producing an oil byproduct from algae as well as clean water for irrigation and public consumption.

Rob McElroy, vice-president of operations and market development, said the company is looking for expansion areas in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Texas, Hawaii and Mobile County.

The goal is to find acreage on bodies of water where the company can expand the number of algae bags it uses to mix algae with disinfected wasterwater – a process that involves the natural warmth of the sun and mixture by waves created on Mobile Bay.

The current facility in Daphne consists of about an acre on Mobile Bay where algae bags sit for five to seven days before it’s pumped back on shore, separated and processed into crude oil.

“Offshore, we don’t have the acreage we need to deploy the bag field to be the scale we want it to be,” McElroy said.

But the company doesn’t have plans, even after it expands elsewhere, to leave Daphne. The current location, a former Daphne Utilities wastewater treatment facility, will continue to be a scientific testing site for the company’s operation of turning algae mixed with wastewater into oil and water.

“We’ll continue the research and continue testing things on a smaller scale here to translate to full commercial plants, most likely,” McElroy, a former general manager at Daphne Utilities, said. “We’ll stay here a number of years even if we start a large plant in Texas, Puerto Rico, or wherever.”

The company, since it began with the financial backing of a Japanese engineering firm, has expanded from a few employees to 25 full-time, high-paid jobs. It also has led to an investment of $7.5 million into the local economy.

The short-term growth, and potential for a commercialized expansion, led Bentley to the plant for a tour.

“This took a lot of knowledge in biochemistry and the ability to take wastewater and use natural ingredients like algae and be able to produce clean water and oil … it’s a great system,” Bentley said following a tour that included a laboratory, greenhouse, wastewater treatment and a hydrothermal liquefaction system.

“Hopefully this experimental station can be commercialized,” Bentley said. “This is the way we need to go.”

McElroy said there isn’t necessarily anything the company can ask for from the state, but Bentley said that there might be incentives the legislature can approve in the coming session that will help aid start-up entities like Algae Systems.

Bentley said the company’s progress fits into the state’s 2012 Accelerate Alabama plan, which focuses on economic development through three key drivers including recruitment of new projects and retention of existing business.

The plan also focuses on renewal, or job creation through what Bentley said is a “development of a new company out of an idea.”

“That’s exactly what this is,” he said.

 

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