Listed Australian company Algae.Tec today officially opened what it described as the first advanced engineered algae-to-biofuels facility in Australia – another contender for what is widely expected to be a billion-dollar industry within a few years.
The facility, known as Shoalhaven One and situated in an adapted shipping container, is located at the Nowra refinery of ethanol producer Manildra. Algae.Tec hopes to demonstrate that its enclosed systems are scalable and high yield, and provide an attractive alternative to the open pond systems developed by rival algae producers.
The opening was the culmination of 12 years development work by company chairman Roger Stroud and his business partner, Earl McConchie, who developed an eponymous harvesting system known as the McConchie-Stroud System.
Algae.Tec says it plans to grow non-GMO algae on an industrial scale, and says its technology has demonstrated “exceptional performance’ in productivity and product yield. It captures carbon dioxide emissions from power stations and factories, and produces fuel that can be used in jets without displacing agricultural crops.
The algae photobioreactors (PBRs), which were assembled as its US headquarters, will take a carbon dioxide feed from the ethanol fermenters at the Manildra refinery into the algae growth system.
Chairman Roger Stroud said he expected the PBRs to produce around 250 tonnes of algae per container per year. “That will be a world first,” he said, adding that it was a yield far beyond what could be produced in open ponds. He says the footprint of its technology is less than one tenth of its rivals. “If you don’t get high yield, you won’t be competitive with fossil fuels. That’s the target market,” Stroud told RenewEconomy in an interview.
Stroud said the two major products produced by the algae will be jet fuel and biodiesel – creating a home-grown fuel industry just as oil refiners are leaving te market. But it could also be pelletised and use for animal feedstock.
“We could install one at any power station, such as the brown coal industry in Victoria, cement plants, or even big breweries if you like,” he said. “And it could work with other industrial sources depending on location. “ It was conceivable that a 2,000-unit plant could be built in Australia, generating $350 million of jet fuels a year, and employing 600-700 people.
Algae.Tec said verification and certification services company SGS will undertake the third party yield validation process. This will be a key step as it seeks to broaden its agreement with the likes of cement company Holcim in Sri Lanka, and potential partners in China, the US, Brazil, and in NSW.
Manildra managing director John Honan described it is an extremely exciting development for the company. “This programme with Algae.Tec will see the business working as the vanguard for the development of novel and varied alternative fuels for oil based fuels as well as for petroleum products,” he said. “The versatility of the Algae.Tec micro-algae strains means that it will be ideal to produce oil suitable for all kinds of fuels from diesels to kerosene.”
NSW Energy Minister Chris Hartcher, who opened the facility, says algae was attractive because it could capture emissions and create renewable fuels without affecting fuel production. He said this was particularly important for Australia, which once supplied two thirds of its liquid fuel needs, but now provides barely 20 per cent.