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OriginOil - read about the latest technologies and uses of algae in an exclusive interview

Date: 2014-01-09 14:51:52.0
Author: BioFPR

SAN DIEGO, California -- At the recent BIO Pacific Rim Summit, BioFPR Managing Editor Sarah Watson interviewed Origin Oil’s Algae Master Jose Sanchez Piña, who once helped write Mexico’s biofuels legislation. He is responsible for the implementation and performance of OriginOil’s algae and aquaculture systems in the field.
Why algae?

Algae has three of four potential applications in the future. First it is the only method for capturing phosphorous on a regular basis, an essential element required for plant growth. The UN have concerns that we may run out of phosphorous, currently extracted from phosphoric rock, in the not too distant future, perhaps from 2035 onwards supplies will decline. As the world’s population increases and food requirements grow, this will become a problem. However, algae can provide an alternative source of phosphorous as a fertilizer from waste water systems or the ocean, for example, which contain run off phosphorous from agriculture.

It can also be used to produce an alternative source of fish meal. Current supplies of fish meal (produced from fish stocks) are limited and algae can be a great potential source of this to ensure future fish supplies and the expansion of the Aquaculture Industry to twice or three times its current size in a sustainable way.

The third application is energy independence, using carbon sources from waste streams. Sewage can be inoculated with heterotrophic strains of algae. The OriginOil systems (the EWS Aqua) include a sterilisation phase for the sterilisation of sewage which removes bacteria and other micro-organisms to produce a very rich soup of carbon and nutrients. The systems can produce yields approx. 30 times greater than algae seen naturally in marine environments, for example in England in the middle of February. Because the systems use heterotrophic algae sunlight is not a requirement. These heterotrophic strains can produce biofuels in a very cost-effective way all year round.

Algae also have a number of applications in medicine and can even be used to produce a solvent for (petroleum) oil recovery.

Tell me about the harvesting process and the electro-magnetic water separation technique.

Algae in water naturally repel each other with a negative charge. In the OriginOil system this is manipulated using an electrical-magnetic charge, this results in some of the algae expelling ions and as a result carrying a positive charge. When this happens the organisms will then clump together (into 1-3mm clumps) as some have a negative charge and some carry a positive charge. This is the first stage. In a second chamber we produce a lot of hydrogen via electrolysis. The hydrogen binds to the clumps of algae and lifts the clumps to the top of the body of water, producing a large mat of algae on the surface, which is 5% solids and has the consistency of mashed potato. This can then be harvested far more easily. The electro-magnetic environment also helps to keep the bacterial loads very low (98-99% of the bacteria are killed), which reduces competition to facilitate algae growth.

What are the energy requirements?

It depends on the water type. Fresh water systems and salt water systems, for example have different energy requirements. For example, Chlorella spp. grown in water similar to tap water in Paris had a 0.66/ Kw hour/cubic meter energy requirement. However, when algae are grown in salt water environments the energy requirements are much lower (approx. 1/5 to 1/10th) as salt water has much more conductivity.

Do you therefore envisage that a lot of your projects in the future will be in marine environments?

Yes. The systems have several times the conductivity in salt water and are therefore much more efficient. There could be a mix of projects for example companies like Cellana and Aurora use salt water and our system will be at its peak efficiency in their production facilities. In the Ennesys project in France however, we are going to take waste water from a building in Paris and grow algae in that. This will require a little more energy, but the organic residues in the sewage will help with the conductivity and efficiency compared to tap water. The projects therefore can be situated anywhere - in the ocean, or even in the middle of a city.

Tell me about the scale of the projects you mention.

We work with a modular design that allows projects to scale up as much as required. For example, if we are asked to clean a river at 25,000 cubic meters/minute it is possible. Several modules can be put together over a cross section of a river. The largest machine that we have tested to date is just one module, which is 200-500 litres/minute, depending on the salinity. But if we put several modules together we could clean the River Thames.

It needs it as well!

With current open pond commercial algae projects which are usually 10,000 square metres, you can cultivate 3 million litres of algae. We are currently basing our commercial modules in 1 million litres of algae per day, which is enough to harvest one third of the volume in 1 hectare pond ( a 10,000m2 plot of land). We can site a module next to each open pond. From 1 million litres you can produce 1000 litres of concentrated algae paste which is far easier than pumping 1 million litres of algae culture to a central processing station. Therefore our system is modular, scalable and most importantly it has been designed by experienced algae farmers.

Where did the initial idea for the technology come from?

The initial idea came from Nicholas Eckelberry, (who co-founded the company with his brother Riggs Eckelberry). He is our main inventor. We started with some aluminium rod electrodes and a trash can lid. We experimented with flocculating and hydrogen floating the algae then we decided to put an entrance in one side and an exit in the other side of the floating chamber to develop a continuous process, then we placed our flocculating single step extraction tubes upstream of the the flotation process and voila! Since then, we evolved to Titanium electrodes, multiple flocculations tubes, modulated frequency power sources, special Hydrogen-producing alloys and dewatering systems for the algae paste.

Tell me a little about the future for Origin Oil. What is your next milestone?

Our next milestone is our entrance into the aquaculture market, to provide a sustainable closed-loop system for fish farmers. We aim to be able to cultivate up to 150 kilos of fish/cubic meter by extracting ammonia and reducing bacteria and other pathogens, as well as producing algae-based fish meal, solving two unique challenges facing the aquaculture market. We are also targeting oil and gas site operators to treat produce and frack water with our EWS technology. Our vision for the future is that every city will be able to produce biofuels with algae harvested using our systems. There will be a refinery in every city that can process fat from sewage and ultimately provide energy independence. That is our long-term vision of the future.


For further information about OriginOil please visit their website here.

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