South Australian company develops new algae growth method

Algarythm, a South Australian company, has developed a new method in producing algal biomass in commercial quantities.

Fishace Ecological Engineering has designed an open pond algae system coupled with photo-bioreactors to increase microalgae density and volume whilst decreasing operating costs. Nutrient-loaded waste waters have been introduced whilst managed fish culture provide vitamin streams. These basic agri-systems can be applied to varying regional climatic and geographic conditions.

‘A clay lined, five pond tiered system, introduces a semi-intensive managed environment to promote all stages of reproduction and growth of microalgae colonies. The trick is to design a process using ecological engineering techniques to mimic pond water quality critical for optimum algae growth. The cycle matches the specific algal species biological life-cycle and after a period of a week, prime densities of algae can be dewatered, dried and packaged,’ explains Stephen Clarke, director of Fishace, to Biofuels International magazine.

Clarke says it has taken three years of networking and planning and now the company is discussing the development with state and interstate biofuels processors.

‘Algarythm's commercialisation programme will last for a period of 12 months and will not require large scale algae oil processing facilities until scale-up within a three year planned production growth period. The company will be developing mobile algae oil processing equipment in the meantime, for local farmers to self process raw materials,’ Clarke says.

The company has opened a pilot plant as part of the operating company Darke Peak Algae Biofuel Commercialisation, working with the Materials and BioEnergy Group of Flinders University, Adelaide.

The plant was developed to be energy and water efficient and was built about 550kms west of Adelaide, on the Eyre Penninsula.

The project uses earth-based pond systems to produce about 165 tonnes of algal biomass, which is refined offsite into 100,000 litres of biodiesel each year.

‘In 2012, Algarythm will be selling raw, dried algae biomass at farm gate, economically stimulating local biomass refining cottage industries. Our social sustainability values promote regional decentralisation and hence more efficient use of local transport energy. We expect this policy to promote regional refining and manufacturing opportunities,’ Clarke says.

Local grain waste is being used to feed the algae and saline algae is grown from biologically degraded land and saline groundwater.

The algal powder used to feed the system is made up of lipids and is used as dry biomass in processing biodiesel and other by-products.

Clarke explains the benefits: ‘It is relatively easy to farm, mainly organic in origin and can be simply processed in larger quantities by pressing. Our focus is to develop low energy, low carbon, low-cost algaculture systems working with the natural environment and not against it. Algal biomass has multiple processing opportunities from agri-feedstock to high value nutraceuticals. It's just another method of farming carbon and utilising waste nutrient streams.’

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