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June 26, 2012

Powering Engines with Pond Scum



The New York City based IEEE (News - Alert)—a professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity— suggests that we should all experience a “sea change” in the way we harvest energy. The experts say that algae, simple autotrophic organisms, are a promising source of sustainable energy to meet increasing global demands.

Commonly called seaweed and pond scum, algae are photosynthetic— like the plants that sprout above sea level. They range in size from unicellular organisms to giant kelp, which develop to more than 200 feet in length. And anyone who has waded into the waves on a beautiful beach day, only to emerge with ankles wrapped in green, slimy stems, knows that they grow like the grass under our feet.

According to the IEEE, algae-based bio-fuels provide a robust and clean source of energy, delivering a sustainable alternative for the production of crude oil, jet fuel, and aviation gases. Use of algae is advantageous due to its extremely high rate of proliferation.

"An acre of corn can be used to generate 300 gallons of ethanol per year, while an acre of algae can produce 6,000 to 10,000 gallons of light sweet crude oil annually," said William Kassebaum, IEEE senior member and CEO of Algaeon Inc.—an Indianapolis-based firm that has developed a breakthrough patent-pending industrial-scale microalgae cultivation technology.

Kassenbaum added, "Numerous innovative applications for algae are already impacting our lives, but algae for use in bio-fuels are still limited, due to lack of availability of capital to grow the industry."

However, according to the Algal Biomass Association, many Americans already have been persuaded that algae are the way to fuel the nation’s growth. In March, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed HB 276 into law. The legislation amends state law to include algaculture, meaning the farming of algae, in the law governing agriculture.

“We applaud the commitment of Ohio’s leadership for their vision and support of the emerging algae industry for both business and agriculture,” said Ross Youngs, CEO and founder of Ohio-based Algaeventure Systems. “HB 276 provides the right regulatory framework to properly cultivate the growing algal industry, attract investment dollars into the state of Ohio, and provide regulatory clarity. Defining algaculture as agriculture in the Ohio Revised Code places Ohio in a leadership position; while making a powerful statement that Ohio is open for business and welcomes investment in this emerging industry.”

What’s more, in Gilbert, Arizona, Heliae Development Company CEO, Dan Simon thinks algae growing and processing could “truly [give us the opportunity] to change the world.” Simon told Tucson Business, “I absolutely believe that Arizona can be a center of algae excellence, globally. Arizona has the sun, the water, the know-how, and entrepreneurial spirit.”

A year ago, at the 49th annual Paris Air Show, Heliae announced a partnership with an aeronautics firm, Azmark Aero Systems, also based in Gilbert, to test algae-based jet fuel from Heliae’s demonstration facility in turbine engines made by Azmark. The turbine engines Azmark manufactures are mainly designed to power drones for military use. “Heliae is working tirelessly on technology to bring production costs down to a point where algae-based jet fuel can compete,” said Simon. “We’re thrilled to be working with Azmark, an innovator in the field of small jet engine development and production.”

Simon said Heliae’s goal is eventually to be able to produce fuel at a cost of $60 per barrel. He says that could happen within three to seven years. And Heliae has the funding to take its time and do the job properly. The company is privately backed by financing from members of the Mars family, famous for making M&Ms and other candies.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman


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