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Algae Aquaculture?s biodiesel, methane and hydrogen

Whitefish-based Algae Aquaculture Technologies has received a $350,000 grant from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to build a commercial algae greenhouse that converts waste wood chips into organic fertilizer.


The 5,500-square-foot greenhouse will be constructed on the grounds of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. near Columbia Falls in a joint venture of the two companies.



Algae Aquaculture personnel have developed a process that converts biomass and waste gases into alternative energy and organic fertilizer.


Plans call for growing algae in the greenhouse and using an anaerobic digester to produce methane gas to burn along with wood waste to create mechanical power for the lumber mill.


 Biochar from the wood waste combustion and waste from the algae then will be used to create fertilizer.


Methane is generated in an organic carbon engine designed by Algae Aquaculture employees, captured, and can be used for other industrial processes on site or diverted into Algae Aquaculture?s geothermal storage system for later use.


The heat is pumped into the ground and extracted later when it?s needed.


?Any way we can hold on to that heat, we will,? Algae Aquaculture Technologies Chief Executive Officer Michael Smith said.


Initially, the fuel burned in the carbon engine will come from the landfill at Stoltze, Smith said.


Burning the materials from the landfill is a plus for both Algae Aquaculture and Stoltze, he said. Smith told Stoltze Lumber Vice President Chuck Roady ?we could get rid of the landfill and generate enough electricity to run the mill.?


Using integrated bioprocessors that consume waste heat and carbon dioxide, the energy-rich biomass is cultivated and converted into useful forms, Smith said. While carbon dioxide normally is a pollutant, in the Algae Aquaculture process it is used as a nutrient for the algae.


Heat exchangers controlled by computers are used to regulate the temperature of the bioprocessors? horizontal raceways to mimic the algae?s natural daily rhythms. A digital control system monitors and adjusts the system to maximize the algae?s growth rate.


The system senses the decreased growth rate that indicates it?s time to harvest the algae. At that point the algae is dewatered and the sludge moved to the anaerobic bioreactor. Smith worked for 20 years as a software engineer and wrote the computer program for the greenhouse system.


The bioreactors convert algae and lignocellulose into methane and fertilizer. The methane can be converted to electricity. The carbon dioxide produced in the methane conversion process is fed back to the algae to boost growth.


 Algae was chosen for the project because ?they grow fast,? Smith said, doubling or even tripling their weight every day, and are efficient at converting carbon dioxide into biomass.

Algae have an average British thermal unit value of 11,500 per pound.


 By comparison, coal from the Powder River Basin averages about 8,800 Btus. Wood has an average of 5,000 Btus per pound.


Algae Aqua officials have estimated that a full-scale greenhouse, ranging in size from 5,000 to 44,000 square feet, is capable of producing fertilizer with a commercial value ranging from $350,000 to $2.4 million a year. A greenhouse can pay itself off in about a year ? not a bad return on your investment,  Smith said.


 One large-scale system is capable of producing more than enough electricity to power the Stoltze facility, Smith said.


Plans call for the production of 100 kilograms of algae a week, the rough equivalent to 2.5 million Btus. The Stoltze boilers today produce 3 million Btus an hour.



Algae Aquaculture and Stoltze personnel reached an agreement in January that led to the development of a model bioprocessor. That small-scale greenhouse has proven how mill and logging waste can be developed into a closed loop system to generate marketable byproducts, and with the grant money, a full-size greenhouse will be constructed.


A key part of Algae Aquaculture?s process is it leaves no waste, Smith said.


In fact, the process is carbon negative, which means it puts more carbon back into the earth than is released into the atmosphere.


No water is discharged in the process, Smith said ? it all is consumed in the production of fertilizer.


Smith said the decision to make fertilizer as an end product, rather than trying to convert the methane into electricity, was made because the fertilizer will have a greater value than electricity. The fertilizer will be marketed to the organic food market that has been growing at a rate of 20 percent a year for the last two decades. It?s popular in that market because it contains no weeds, as opposed to manure.


Algae Aquaculture?s systems can be used to produce biodiesel, methane and hydrogen that can be used as fuel for vehicles or equipment or converted to electrical power.


Another objective of Algae Aqua personnel is to study how the algae can be used to purify the brackish water that collects on the site.


Eventually, Algae Aquaculture plans to build five greenhouses on the Stoltze property. Algae Aquaculture is marketing its system worldwide.

Tue November 02 2010 09:52:27 PM by Natalia Algae green house  |  algae aqua 1865 views
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