19/12/2007 - 22:00

Algae blooms as energy crop

19/12/2007 - 22:00

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A new Western Australian business is looking to build the country’s first demonstration pilot plant to mass-produce oil derived from algae for use as biodiesel.

Algae blooms as energy crop

A new Western Australian business is looking to build the country’s first demonstration pilot plant to mass-produce oil derived from algae for use as biodiesel.

APBE Pty Ltd, established by engineer Stephen Clark and environmental scientist Jason Haydock, is developing technology that will absorb emissions from industry and feed them into an algae photo bioreactor, an enclosed structure used to grow algae.

The algae is then dewatered and pressed and the oil refined to produce biodiesel. The leftover algal cake can be used for other purposes, such as animal feed.

Mr Clark said algae was a more environmentally friendly and sustainable biofuel feedstock as it did not compete with food crops for land, and did not have any major competing markets that could potentially put upward pressure on prices.

He said the APB technology recreated natural ecological processes, allowing algae to grow rapidly through the photosynthetic process by absorbing carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, while being exposed to natural light.

“That’s why we call it ecological engineering; it’s mimicking natural processes,” Mr Clark said.

The company is currently looking for investors to help it raise more than $1 million to build the pilot plant.

Potential locations suitable for a small-scale plant include breweries, food production facilities, or dairies, with power stations or mineral processing facilities suitable to house a large-scale plant.

APBE expects to start building a demonstration plant in March next year, with construction to take about three months.

Mr Clark said the technology would allow high greenhouse gas emitting industries, such as power generation, to lock up more than 40 per cent and potentially up to 85 per cent of their emissions with relatively little cost or disruption. At the same time, he said, they could generate a potential income stream through the production of biodiesel.

While the technology has not yet been applied on a large-scale commercial level anywhere in the world, a number of pilot plants are successfully operating in the US and the UK.

The world’s largest player, US-based GreenFuel Technology Corporation, already operates small-scale demonstration plants at a number of large power plants across the US using flue gases to grow the algae.

Locally, the Victor Smorgon Group has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Green Fuel to distribute, install and operate its algae-to-biofuels technology throughout Australia and New Zealand.

In another major boost, petroleum giant Shell recently formed a joint venture with Hawaiian-based HR Biopetroleum to build a commercial plant producing biodiesel from algae in Hawaii in two years.

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