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Australian ethanol producer replacing grain with algae

The Manildra Group, Sydney, Australia, the largest Australian producer of ethanol (300 000 metric tons/yr), has concluded an agreement with Algae Tec to provide facilities at Manildra’s largest ethanol plant for demonstration at scale of the Algae Tec system for making bio ethanol. A full scale module is scheduled for start up by the end of Q1, 2012. 

Based on information from Earl McConchie, managing director of Algae Energy, (subsidiary of Algae Tec) Cumming, Georgia, Manildra is moving ahead with the Algae Tec system for two primary reasons. One is to eliminate the use of food commodities (now primarily wheat) as raw material for making ethanol. The second is the Algae Tec system’s productive use of CO2, which is a waste product from Manildra plant operations. Australia is reportedly planning to impose taxes on CO2 released into the atmosphere. 

Manildra is a one million tons/year user of wheat to produce flour, starch, gluten, protein, glucose and syrup, as well as ethanol. McConchie says Manildra is focused on the advantages of Algae Tec’s photo bioreactor system packaged in 40 ft. modular containers (the same size as shipping containers). The algae solution is cultivated in separated layers fed with CO2. Solar energy via fiber optics from remote parabolic solar energy collectors provide distributed energy to each layer for optimum algae growth. By this means, large algae oil or ethanol yields can be realized for a given bioreactor foot print. The yield per acre is said to be very high. 

While the subject of Algae Tec’s product cost was not discussed recently, the firm earlier indicated to Automotive Industries that basic cost is expected to be something less than $2/gal and certainly below the current cost of either petroleum or food commodity based fuel. Unknown is just how this will work out when savings are applied from productive use of CO2 rather than being taxed as a pollutant. Another advantage is the Algae Tec system can use either salt or fresh water. 

Although pilot operation of the system has validated Algae Tec’s performance, all eyes are now on the full scale modular unit being constructed at a Manildra ethanol facility. With 40 total locations in SE Asia, Australia and the U.S., Manildra could be a large supplier of non food related ethanol. 

McConchie believes growth in World population, increases in the standard of living in eastern parts of the globe, reluctance to use food product for fuel and price increases from dwindling supplies of petroleum all combine to enhance the outlook for fuel made from algae. Algae Tec’s target for algae based fuel is 8-10 million metric tons/yr by 2022; said to represent over 2 billion gallons/yr of biofuel. 

If measured performance of the initial production module at scale next year validates the firm’s data from its pilot operation and depending on competitive systems, the 2 billion gallons/ yr forecast may be conservative. Next will be the question of who will participate with Algae Tec in the commercialization of the firm’s algae system applied to the economic production of diesel and aviation jet fuels which have larger potential than ethanol. McConchie reports that discussions are in progress with several firms. Surely this is driven forward by expressed desire of the military and air lines actively seeking replacement of petroleum with biofuel. Helping to drive demand is the standard now approved for hydro processed aviation bio jet fuel set by an ASTM International Committee. The approval for new aviation biofuel is an annex to the alternative fuel specification D7566, reported by Biodiesel Magazine.

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