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Solix, Solazyme and Phycal’s cost-effective Harvesting Techniques!

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One can grow algae but it doesn’t mean its free.Although algae is believed to be one of the chief feedstocks for biodiesel, growing large amounts of algae and then converting the single-celled creatures remains expensive.

Algae biofuel startup Solix, for instance, can produce biofuel from algae right now, but it costs about $32.81 a gallon. The production cost is high because of the energy required to circulate gases and other materials inside the photo -bioreactors where the algae grow.  It also takes energy to dry out the biomass, and Solix uses far less water than other companies.But it said the production cost can be broughtdown to $5.50 a gallon,by exploitingwaste heat at adjacent utilities.

It’s only in phase II of Solix’s business plan that it will be able to drop production costs to $3.30 to $1.57 a gallon, or around $60 to $80 a barrel. Solix has set a goal of cutting the cost of making algae by 90 percent.

But algae comes with trade-offs. Wild algae grows fast, but it doesn’t yield tremendous amounts of oil naturally – two thirds or more of the body weight of wild algae will be proteins and carbohydrates instead of oil. Genetically modified algae can boost the oil content, but that slows the growth process. Closed bioreactors – i.e., sealed plastic bags placed in the sun — cost more than open ponds, but it’s tough to keep invasive species from taking over open ponds and out-competing algae optimized to produce oil.

Some companies, like Solazyme, are exploiting genetic science and fermenting techniques to accomplish the task. In fermentation, specific species of algae are locked into brewing kettles with sugars derived from old plant matter. When the time is right, Solazyme takes out the microbes and squeezes out the oil. It’s cheaper to get large volumes of feedstock oil through fermentation than growing algae in ponds or bioreactors. Genetically modifying the algae can boost the lipid, or oil, content to 70 percent of the organism’s weight. In a sense, Solazyme practices indirect photosynthesis: the algae doesn’t grow by having sunlight shone upon it but by eating sugars that were grown in the sun.

The algae fuel company Phycal is trying to harvest oil from algae without killing the algae. Instead, Phycal bathes the algae in solvents which can suck out the oil. Some strains of algae can go through the process four times or more.

Source

The Oilgae Academic Edition gives more detailed insights on algal harvesting techniques.

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