August 25, 2008

A New Source for Heating Oil -- In Pawtucket?

Carroll Andrew Morse

How would you like to be able to buy cheap home-heating oil, made from algae in a factory in Pawtucket?

According to an item on the KTHV-TV (CBS 11, Little Rock AR) news-blog site attributed to CNN, oil-from-algae could become an option reasonably soon, and New England-based research is leading the way…

You see algae collecting on ponds and even swimming pools, but for some biofuel enthusiasts the green slime could turn into a gold mine…."Could very well be the fuel of the future...that's algae," says Scott Comey from Rhode Island with Energy Innovation.

"For every gallon of algae that you process you can get a half a gallon or more, depending on the strain of algae, of oil," says Comey.

Comey and his team of 30 PHD's, professors, and other working New Englanders envision a future in which they could sell algae based biofuel as home heating oil for under 2 dollars a gallon….

Using old factory buildings, the plan is to grow algae in mass quantities, and then convert it into heating oil through a few simple chemical reactions….Comey and his crew plan to move into a Pawtucket factory building to start production, but they still require additional funding to get the deal done.

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Over a year ago, Royal Dutch Shell and HR Biopetroleum built a 6 acre testing laboratory on the Big Island of Hawaii at the Hawaii National Energy Testing Laboratories to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biofuel.

It has been discovered algae can produce up to 15,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year.

HR BioPetroleum, Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., Hawaiian Electric Company and Maui Electric Company, subsidiaries of Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc., announced that they have signed memoranda of understanding to pursue the joint development of a commercial-scale microalgae facility on the island of Maui to produce lipid oil for conversion to biodiesel and other valuable products, such as animal feed.

First phase of the commercial facility could be in operation by 2011.

“This innovative partnership can help move Hawaii one step closer to securing energy independence and achieving our goal of having 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy come from clean sources by 2030,” said Hawaii Republican Governor Linda Lingle. “There is no single source of energy that will break our dependence on foreign oil, but investments in renewable projects such as this are part of the comprehensive solution to provide energy alternatives for our state.”

Microalgae have significant potential as an energy crop, with the prospect for very high levels of oil production per acre. When combined with other vegetable-oil crops that could be grown locally, such as jatropha or palm, algae could help meet the biodiesel feedstock need for biodiesel on Maui, which now fuels about 85 percent of its combustion generation with petroleum diesel.

Posted by: Ken at August 25, 2008 8:10 PM


What I failed to mention is that the US Government and National Energy Laboratories have been studying the concept of algae to biofuels for the past 18 years. Cooking oil to jet fuel and every type of oil in between has been made from algae. The concept is not new just been continuously refined.

There are 15 companies identified US-wide, not including big oil companies, that have a proven process and market. One company resides in New Hampshire. Of course the Hawaiian company I mentioned moving into full commercial production is also identified because it uses no portable water or anything that will take away from human food stocks; only sea water which Hawaii has plenty of..

Posted by: Ken at August 26, 2008 12:06 AM

Ok, and how much energy does it take to produce the algae and make the conversion?

Posted by: EMT at August 26, 2008 1:34 PM


As for how much energy is used to produce biofuel it depends on the type of process used and what type of biofuel you are refining to. There are many different processes to grow algae but the basic way is CO2 enriched water and natural sunlight. Once algae has grown, collect it; extract and refine the oil from it into biofuel.

University of New Hampshire has been studying biofuel from algae for the last 20 years and has a lot of statistical, energy related and financial information available to the public.

The Pawtucket proposal is interesting because it appears they intend to setup shop in an old factory which means extra electric lighting (are they using artificial light for growing?) and heating costs associated with New England weather, water cost, rent, taxes, insurances, transportation plus they did not indicate their type of process to grow algae.

GreenFuel Technologies of Cambridge, MA builds their algae production farms attached to power plants (source of CO2) and uses portable water.

The Hawaii project by HR Biopetroleum and Cellena is being constructed next to Maui Electric power plant (CO2) source and will use sea water and natural sunlight to grow algae. The refined biodiesel will be used to power the Maui Electric power plant generators so the whole operation will become self sustaining providing electricity to the island and lowering green house gas emissions.

Don’t forget, the Hawaii project built a proof of concept algae farm and refinery process at the National Energy Labs and tweaked the process till it was cost effective before moving into commercial processing. HR Biopetroleum process is covered by U.S. patent and licensing from the University of Hawaii.

PetroSun started commercial production on 1 April 2008. The facility, located in Rio Hondo Texas, will produce an estimated 4.4 million gallons of algal oil and 110 million lbs. of biomass per year off a series of saltwater ponds spanning 1,100 acres. Twenty of those acres will be reserved for the experimental production of a renewable JP8 jet-fuel.

Here is a link describing the 15 companies and their process to keep an eye on for algae to biofuel.

Posted by: Ken at August 26, 2008 5:42 PM

Need more information

Posted by: John Helwig at August 27, 2008 5:29 PM
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