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Canadian Companies Shaping the Future of Cleantech – Pond Biofuels – A Case Study

April 1st, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Algae, algae biodiesel USA, Canada

Pond Biofuels can trace its beginnings to President Jimmy Carter and the oil crisis of the 1970s. In the face of oil shortages, Carter launched an ambitious initiative to find alternative fuel sources. While most of the money was earmarked for more orthodox renewable energy programs like solar and wind, the U.S. Department of Energy spent $25 million (U.S.) trying to figure out how to grow algae that could be converted to fuel. It eventually cancelled the program in 1996 because the process was deemed uneconomical. A decade later, Steven Martin and Max Kolesnik, two Canadian chemistry graduates, decided to take the U.S. findings and finish the job.

Pond Biofuels sells a two-for-one environmental special: It intercepts raw smokestack emissions full of CO2 before they are released as pollutants into the atmosphere, and uses them to create an algae bloom that can be converted to fuel. While the idea is simple, the mechanics are complex: The noxious gases are fed into massive vats, or bioreactors, of microalgae that grow at a ferocious rate when exposed to optimal conditions and LED lighting—on average, every tonne of CO2 yields 0.55 tonnes of algae. The algae are harvested, pressed into a substance that looks like green toothpaste, and then dried in brittle sheets that break into pieces the size and consistency of cornflakes. Further chemical steps can turn the biomass into biocrude oil, biodiesel or ethanol, all of which come very close to matching the heat output of coal. (The green goop may one day also be used as feed at fish farms or for animals, especially as a protein supplement for piglets.)

Pond Biofuels’ goal is to develop a commercial plant capable of processing tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 each year. On a large enough scale, this process could produce sufficient energy to replace the fossil fuels that are used in most manufacturing and transportation, Martin says. The company’s pitch has been good enough to secure $13 million in government and private funding. It will need to raise a lot more to move from pilot phase to commercialization.

For now, Pond Biofuels is running two test projects in Ontario, tapping the emissions of St. Marys Cement and U.S. Steel Canada to feed multiple 8,000-litre bins of hungry microalgae—and some very large hopes for a new era of biofuels.

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/six-canadian-clean-energy-companies/article17685931/

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