Algae biofuels are receiving more and more attention in the media and from the Obama administration. Evidence of this can be seen through increasing number of algae related stories in the news as well as several recent actions by the administration, most important of which is the U.S. Department of Energy awarding millions of dollars in research grants for the study of algae .
Recent government grants like this in addition to many private organizations like Exxon investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the future of algae fuels have only added to the drive of many small companies looking to develop the best way to grow algae. Many of these organizations have decided on bioreactor growth systems and are looking at either using artificial or natural lighting to maximize the growth of algae.
However, one company is taking more of an “all of the above” approach in developing an algae growth system. BioMarine Fuels, a development-stage company focused on the production of algal biomass, is developing a system that will incorporate the best aspects of both artificial and natural light systems in addition to several other key features.
In an interview, BioMarine’s CEO John Ericsson said that the “key to success is a combination of things” and not the strict focus on one method over another. He pointed out that if combined, each system can help overcome the flaws or shortcomings of the other.
For example, by using sunlight, you get a free, but limited source of energy. But when combined with low-cost artificial lighting, a more efficient 24-hour growing cycle for algae production can be achieved. This is what BioMarine is striving to accomplish with their “SolarMagnatron” photobioreactor design.
With a name like SolarMagnatron, many have probably already surmised that this photobioreactor uses something more than just light to grow the algae feedstock. In fact, their system uses electromagnetic field technology in addition to natural and artificial light to help stimulate algae growth.
This technology, according to Ericsson, irradiates the water to make the algae “healthier and divide faster.” According to the BioMarine Web site, “electromagnetic energy of a specific resonance has been demonstrated by leading scientists to accelerate algae reproduction (mitoses) by up to 300 percent.”
However, BioMarine’s photobioreactor model is just one part in an integrated algae growth system. Referred to as the Symbiotic Energy System (SES), this system will enable the SolarMagnatron to “neutralize fossil fueled smokestack pollution while capturing the waste CO2 and converting the discharged pollutant chemicals into algae nutrients and feedstock,” which can ultimately be converted into fuel, food, or essentially any oil based product.
Unlike some other growth systems, BioMarine’s does not rely on a specific source of water. In fact, they are currently using saltwater since there research center is located near the ocean. With freshwater use being one of the main criticisms of algae production, having a system that can use the essentially limitless supply of saltwater will make any arguments moot. However, the system can be adapted to use brackish or freshwater depending on what is accessible in the given area.
One other major feature of BioMarine’s system is the expected high yield of biomass per unit. Ericsson stated that just one SolarMagnatron unit could produce enough algal biomass to create roughly thirty-three gallons of fuel a day. A building the size of a standard Wal-Mart store (50,000 square feet) could house roughly 400 to 500 of these units. That means that a building that size could produce enough algal biomass to create about 16,000 gallons (380 barrels) of fuel per day.
Overall, BioMarine Fuels is still in the commercial prototype research & development phase but is quickly approaching the point where they can create a sustainable and energy efficient biomass production system. Recent partnerships, like the one formed with Fluid Imaging Technologies , will only help push the company closer to their goals. Right now, they are seeking investors familiar with the field so that they can begin implementing the next phase of their research and development plan.
The principal owners of the company have invested mostly their own funds to date and are soon to reach several important milestones over the next couple of months such as filing their final patent application on several break through components comprising their SolarMagnatron biomass production system.
With BioMarine Fuels’ system offering some unique benefits, they will most likely become a major player in the algae field when it is successfully commercialized. Until then, be sure to keep a look out for any future announcements from this unique company by visiting the BioMarine Fuels Web site.
Article by Jonathan Williams appearing courtesy Celsias.