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Lake Charles company producing algae for food, fuel (6/27) 1

Lake Charles company producing algae for food, fuel (6/27)

Posted June 27, 2011 at 4:10 pm
Filed Under News | 3 Comments


A Lake Charles-based bio-technology company has developed a new way to grow algae to produce both food and fuel.

“There’s an oil portion to the algae and a protein portion,” said David Johnston, CEO of Aquatic Energy. “We break the two apart and sell it to our partners and they then turn it into the final products.”

Brothers David and Nathan Johnston, owners of Aquatic Energy, came to Louisiana from Maryland seeking the state’s ideal climate and clay-based soil to grow and harvest algae.

“We needed something that grew fast but didn’t compete with food like soy or corn, that’s when we really started focusing on algae,” David Johnston said. “We can grow a lot of algae, and it grows faster than a traditional plant. We’re harvesting 100 percent of the biomass of the algae so we don’t have any by-product or waste.”

David Johnston said refineries are the company’s main customer for the algae-based oil, which is converted to renewable diesel fuel.

“All the refinery and energy infrastructure here in Lake Charles really attracted us,” David Johnston said. “When we first came here, we really wanted to put in ‘pilot facilities’ to grow the algae and harvest it, extract the oil and see how much we could produce on a per-acre basis.”

Aquatic Energy moved to Lake Charles in 2007 and began testing the harvesting of algae in Southwest Louisiana, which led to the opening of their Roanoke facility nearly 30 miles to the east. The Roanoke facility is the company’s largest integrated facility, Johnston said, spanning 30 acres with algae growing “ponds” up to 400-feet long.

Chris Orem, vice president of business development, said the Roanoke facility is one of a kind.

“The Roanoke facility is the only outdoor, freshwater facility in certainly the state, if not the country,” he said. “The real challenge is growing the freshwater outdoors; salt water is easy. You can just raise the salinity of a pond to an extreme level where only a couple of species of algae will grow, making it easy to maintain a pure culture. We have to do a lot of new science that hasn’t been done before to control the water chemistry.”

Getting the algae out of the water is another thing.

“We use harvesting equipments similar to wastewater treatment facilities,” said Nathan Johnston, market manager. “With settling tanks and belt presses, that’s how we actually get the algae out of the water. And from there, we dry it and prepare it for extraction.”

The extraction of oil from the algae, he said, is the next step when harvesting.

“The extraction process is very similar to what they use in vegetable oil extraction,” Nathan Johnston said. “Then, when we’ve got the oil, the bio-mass that is leftover is a high-protein animal feed.”

David Johnston said Aquatic Energy is working with major food companies like Land O’Lakes-Purina to use the algae for poultry, swine and dairy applications and animal feed for livestock.

He said that algae, compared to corn on a per-acre basis, yields more per acre and without the wait of a harvest season.

“We found with corn that you could (make) somewhere from 100 to 150 gallons of corn oil an acre per year,” Nathan Johnston said. “Algae yields anywhere from 2,000 to 2,500 gallons per acre a year.”

He said he hopes to one day trade algae-based bio-diesel against the price of crude oil diesel.

“Our goal is to undercut the price of diesel,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of scaling up our process and getting it to a commercial level.”

He said algae oil has a potentially unlimited supply with production requiring no drilling or exploration.

Copyright American Press. All rights reserved.

Paddlewheels aerate some of the smaller algae ponds in Aquatic Energy’s Roanoke Facility. (KAREN WINK / AMERICAN PRESS)

Paddlewheels aerate some of the smaller algae ponds in Aquatic Energy’s Roanoke Facility. (KAREN WINK / AMERICAN PRESS)

Fri July 08 2011 08:02:54 PM by Tomcatino 2363 views
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