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Algae Aquaculture?s biodiesel, methane and hydrogen Posted by Natalia on Tue November 02 2010 09:52:27 PM

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.