The common wisdom that algae oil production is in the several thousand gallons per acre per year range may have to be revised up by as much as ten times or more.
SunEco Energy, headquartered in Chino, California with algae oil production operations in Niland, California (Imperial Valley) report the build out of its pond system will total 1320 acre-feet and will be at the annual production rate of at least 45 million gallons of algae crude oil expected in 2010. The heart of the system outlined by SunEco’s Jim Hardin PhD CTO/CAO, is explained as follows:
“Monoculture photosynthesis single species systems do not apply to the SunEco technology which has achieved highly discounted algae oil yield value of 33,000 gal/acre-ft/year via a polyclonal system using over 30 algae species. Both
Photosynthetic and heterotrophic manipulation in a number of ways (proprietary) are used. Much deeper outdoor ponds add to SunEco’s total yield advantage”
Following receipt of the above information, Hardin added that demonstrated acre/foot performance of the system is maintained to pond depth of 6 to 8 ft. On this basis, algae oil yield performance will be in the range of about 200,000 to 260,000 gal/acre/yr, (i.e., 33,000 X 6 or 8). Surface acres is the normal industry basis of comparison. Comparisons based on acre-ft is not normally used since conventional photosynthesis based systems are effective only near the surface.
Unexplained for reasons of intellectual property security are details of how photosynthesis and heterotrophic action are used in combination and also how high algae growth rates are maintained in 6-8 ft. deep ponds
Views of the SunEco facilities in Niland, California and the firms position statement on yield per acre/ft can be reviewed at www.sunecoenergy.com The firm’s newest 13 acre pond is shown under construction and while being filled for apparent operation at 6-8 ft. depth. Much of SunEco’s current pond capacity with less depth is held over from the facility’s prior use as fish ponds by a prior owner. Planning is said to be in progress for expansion with new deeper ponds at several times the current size for much greater algae oil production.
It was reported in August by AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRIES that key SunEco challenges will be the logistics of large quantities of input CO2 and nutrients (including animal waste) and output of the algae crude oil to refineries for processing into biodiesel or other uses. Each of the input and output factors have their related impacts on SunEco cost depending on distances and characteristics. Examples are transport by truck is the most expensive, by rail is next while pipeline shipment to refiners is least costly. Already in place is an agreement for supply of SunEco based biodiesel fuel to the J.B. Hunt trucking operation which has tested and approved refined biodiesel fuel,
An interesting aspect of the logistics issue is the potential for large sources of CO2 from electric utilities to aid algae growth. An Arizona Public Service Co natural gas fired electric generating unit is currently investigating this opportunity by a pilot algae oil
production system jointly with GreenFuel Technologies Corporation, Cambridge, MA.
The algae system is expected to produce 11,000 gallons of bio diesel and ethanol per acre per year. The pilot project is valued at $70 million. If carried to its conclusion it could represent additional competition in the motor fuel market. At the same time, favorable economics of algae oil production at ultra high yields could accelerate the rate at which many firms develop fuels and other products from bio oil in the U.S. with U.S. labor. ExxonMobil, the largest oil company, recently announced a $600 million algae oil venture with Synthetic Geonomics which a spokesman for ExxonMobil said would take 10 years to mature. Information released by the oil company characterized algae oil production currently as being at the 2000 gal/acre/year productivity level. .
Separately, one the most aggressive programs to kick start bio oil based fuel production is by the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group supported by Boeing Aircraft Company executives. The International Air Transport Association has already set a target of B6 by 2020. Both civil and military aircraft as well as many other liquid fuel dependent
vehicles such as heavy trucks have little hope for practical alternatives such as electric systems being funded by the U.S. government for passenger cars.