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Algenol, Dow Chemical Team Up on Algae Fuel Plant

algenollogoThe demise of a well-funded algae fuel company earlier this year doesn’t seem to be deterring startups, or oil and plastics companies, from working on new algae fuel tech. This morning Algenol Biofuels, a Naples, Fla.-based company that uses carbon dioxide from power plants to grow algae in order to make ethanol, tells the New York Times that it is building a demonstration plant with Dow Chemical (s DOW) on a 24-acre site at Dow Chemical’s property in Freeport, Texas, which will house 3,100 bioreactors (clear troughs that grow algae) that will be able to produce up to 100,000 gallons of ethanol per year.

Dow Chemical will provide the plastic material for the bioreactors. It’s interested in Algenol’s algae tech in order to use the ethanol produced as an ingredient for plastics to replace the use of natural gas. While many companies are working on ways to create ethanol to power vehicles, the bioplastics space has been relatively neglected. For the demo project Algenol is also working with researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Membrane Technology and Research, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to improve the process and study algae fuel.

Algenol was founded in 2006 and uses a slightly different approach to algae fuel than its competitors. While most algae-to-fuel startups (15 listed here) grow algae so they can process the algae directly into fuel, Algenol collects ethanol vapors from the algae, which involves neither killing the plants nor the use of an expensive refining process. The company has reportedly raised $70 million in private backing to build out its innovation and beyond the Dow Chemical partnership Algenol has said it has an agreement with Sonora Fields (a wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican-owned BioFields) to build an $850 million project that will deliver a billion gallons of fuel a year.

4 Responses to “Algenol, Dow Chemical Team Up on Algae Fuel Plant”

  1. Hey great article! I have recently wrote an article that discusses the progress made by two algae bio fuel companies. Check it out! New Technology goes through three stages:
    First it is ridiculed by those ignorant of its potential
    Next, it is subverted by those threatened by its potential
    Finally, it is considered self-evident.
    This article is in response to an Oil Drum article linked below.
    Take a look at the article to get a good understanding on how I shaped my response.
    The Oil Drum article may have been relevant when published back in may of 2009 but many of these limitations have and will be overcome by advances in technology, along with increases in private and public investments.  With global investment in carbon capturing in the billions, the race has been set to see which companies can emerge as technology leaders.  The companies that do succeed will only realize success when they integrate their technologies with one another to create a superior technology.  These integrations will help push the industry forward and eventually will create a paradigm shift in carbon capturing. 
    The scenario for success I just explained, closely resembles Origin Oil and MBD Energy’s current relationship.  Many are ignorant and threatened by the potential of capturing carbon to produce biofuel, they simply say “It can not be done.”   Step one and two regarding phases of new technology complete.  The oil drum article vaguely communicated to readers the failure of Green Fuel and with Green Fuel’s failure tried to subvert their audience into believing if one fails, they all fail!  This notion that if one fails all fails holds very little weight.  Present day knowledge and opportunities to turn carbon into a viable fuel source has become self evident.  
    When a technology becomes self evident it has reached it’s final stage, commercialization.  This stage has been evolving the past year with major R&D projects being funded by the largest publicly traded oil companies in the world.  Bp, Shell, Royal Dutch and the biggest investor of them all Exxon Mobil are all in the race.  The big boys now consider these technologies self evident and see the need to invest in order to secure their competitive advantage amongst one another.  It is only a matter of time before we see the first industrial scale carbon capturing plant that can produce algae as a biofuel.  In my opinion MBD Energy and Origin Oil, through the integration of their technologies, will be the first to achieve this amazing feat.
    Origin Oil’s market strategy is unique because they look to integrate their technologies with other thriving companies to establish a competitive advantage.  They were voted by top 30 most transformative technologies in 2010. Their  portfolio consisting of 10 patent pending technologies are crucial to their success and are regarded to as industry game changers. CEO Riggs Eckleberry and CTO Dr. Brian Goodall combine for over 50 years of networking and industry experience. Origin Oil’s ability to create synergy between them selves and existing biofuel companies by integrating technologies will serve them well in the long run. This unique market entry strategy will drive their industry growth and will enable them to become industry leaders in technology innovation and integration.

  2. Growing algae to make biodiesel is being touted as a cure-all for all our biofuel problems, but we are still stuck with the fact that algae need solar energy to turn carbon dioxide into fuel. To make biodiesel, algae are used as organic solar panels which output oil instead of electricity. Researchers brag that algae can produce 15 times more fuel per acre of land than growing corn for ethanol, but that still means we would need an impossibly large number of acres (about 133 million acres) of concrete lined open-air algae ponds to meet our highway energy demands. Those schemes that grow algae in closed reactor vessels, without sunlight, necessitate the algae being fed sugars or starches as a source of chemical energy. The sugars or starches must then be made from corn, wheat, beets, or other crop, so you are simply trading ethanol potential to make oil instead of vodka. If we construct genetically engineered super-algae that are capable of out-competing native algae strains that contaminate open air algae ponds, the new gene-modified algae will be immediately carried to lakes, reservoirs, and oceans all over the world in the feathers of migrating birds, with unknown and possibly catastrophic results.