Make us your home page

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 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

  1. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  2. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  3. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.
  4. Honda denies covering up dangers of Takata air bags


    With just a third of the defective Takata air bag inflators replaced nationwide, the corporate blame game of who will take responsibility — and pay — for the issue has shifted into another gear.

    Honda is denying covering up dangers of Takata air bags. | [Scott McIntyre, New York Times]
  5. Former CEO of Winn-Dixie parent joining Hong Kong company


    The former CEO of the Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, Ian McLeod, has landed a new leadership role in Hong Kong. He is joining the pan-Asian based Dairy Farm International Holdings Ltd. as group chief executive.

    Ian McLeod, who is stepping down as the CEO of the parent company of Winn-Dixie, has been hired by Dairy Farm International Holdings. 
[Photo courtesy of Southeastern Grocers]