Make us your home page
Instagram

A Florida firm is a leader in making biofuel from algae

The green muck in your pool might someday be a source of fuel for your car, but not just yet. The surge of interest in biofuels has companies around the U.S. racing to be the first to produce cost-effective algae fuels on a large scale. Despite high hopes and decades of research, algae fuels remain mired in unforgiving economics. PetroAlgae, based in Melbourne, hopes its technology will provide the needed breakthrough to make algae the fuel of the future. "We're not quite finished," said Fred Tennant, vice president for business development with PetroAlgae. "If we were finished you'd see giant smiles on everyone's faces here. We get a little closer every day, but we're not quite there yet."

The company is searching for better, cheaper ways to squeeze oil out of algae while trying to squeeze the high costs out of algae farming, he explained.

"No one needs another high-priced fuel," Tennant said. "If we make biodiesel out of this and it's 21 bucks a gallon, no one is going to buy it."

PetroAlgae was created in 2006 by XL Tech Group, a 15-year-old Melbourne firm that creates companies to address specific needs in the marketplace. In this case, XL Tech saw a need for cheap oil that could be made into a biodiesel without diverting food crops. PetroAlgae, which licensed technology from Arizona State University, has grown to 91 employees with a lab and an algae farm. Tennant hopes to complete a 20-acre demonstration farm early next year.

Despite the enthusiasm and investment in algae fuels, there is still no commercial-sized plant producing algae-based biodiesel in the United States. Solazyme, a San Francisco company that is among the leaders in developing algae fuels, announced earlier this week that it has produced the world's first algae-based jet fuel. Despite its success, the company is producing just thousands of gallons, compared to the 1.6-billion gallons of jet fuel used every month in the United States.

Dr. John Benemann, a consultant who has worked with the Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency on algae research, said the technology works, but the economics do not.

The key to making it financially feasible is for algae farms to get paid two ways, Benneman said. First, farms should get paid for getting rid of unwanted products that algae will eat, like wastewater and carbon dioxide. Second, farms can then harvest and sell the oil. Within the next five years, algae farms could be getting paid for taking over wastewater treatment, Benneman said.

Tennant hopes to create a similar model. The United States could soon commit to greenhouse gas legislation that will make it expensive to pollute by carbon dioxide. Power plants will have to pay to pollute. Since algae eats carbon dioxide, Tennant hopes he can locate algae farms near power plants, and get paid to take their carbon dioxide problem off their hands.

Even with these advances, Benneman said algae oils will still only supply a fraction of the marketplace for alternative energy.

"None of these things are going to replace oil," Benemann said. "But they will add to the future mix of energy sources."

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3117.

The algae in the reactors are pressed and dried into a paste. The paste is refined into algae biomeal, which is used for animal feed, and algae oil, which is used as a feedstock to make biodiesel.

A Florida firm is a leader in making biofuel from algae 09/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 2:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. City Council approves $5 million for Clearwater Marine Aquarium expansion

    Briefs

    CLEARWATER — The City Council on Thursday approved contributing $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for its massive expansion project.

    Clearwater has agreed to contributed $5 million to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium 
's $66 million expansion project.. [ Clearwater Marine Aquarium] 


  2. Trigaux: Florida, Tampa Bay lagging in growth of their startups

    Economic Development

    The annual assessment of how entrepreneurs are doing across the country is out from the Kauffman Foundation — among the best watchers of the nation's startup scene. How do Florida and Tampa Bay fare?

    Lured by financial incentives, startup GeniusCentral relocated from Manatee County in 2015 to St. Petersburg, promising to creatye 40 new jobs. It took downtown space in an appropriately creative workpace for entrepreneurs. It did not last there, later moving back to less expensive space in Manatee. A new Kauffman Index report on entrepreneurship found that Florida is a good place to launch startups but a tougher place to grow them.
[SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES]
  3. Pleasant dreams: sleep travel site gives high marks to Tampa airport

    Airlines

    TAMPA — Traveling might be considered closer to a nightmare than a dream for many. But that might be different for those who travel through Tampa International Airport. It was ranked the No. 3 overall best airport in North America by Sleeping in Airports, a travel site that tracks the best airports to catch some …

    Tampa International Airport was ranked as the No. 3 best overall airport by travel site Sleeping in Airports. | [Times file photo]
  4. Google parent leads $1B Lyft investment, deepening Uber rift

    Business

    SAN FRANCISCO — Google's parent company is throwing its financial support behind ride-hailing service Lyft, deepening its rift with market leader Uber.

    This  file photo shows a smartphone displaying the Lyft app.Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., is throwing its financial support behind ride-hailing service Lyft, deepening its rift with market leader Uber. [Associated Press, 2016]
  5. ReliaQuest opens storefront in mock city of JA Biztown

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, opened a "storefront" Wednesday at JA Biztown. The storefront is part of a mock city where students learn economic concepts and run businesses. About 20 real-life Tampa Bay companies sponsor storefronts that local students get to run for a day as part of a …

    ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, opened a "storefront" Wednesday at JA Biztown, a mock city where students learn to run businesses. | [MALENA CAROLLO, Times]