Dow, Algenol plan to build pilot algae-to-ethanol biorefinery

By Hope Deutscher | June 03, 2009
Report posted June 30, 2009, at 3:39 p.m. CST

The Dow Chemical Co. and Algenol Biofuels Inc. announced June 29 that they plan to build and operate a pilot-scale algae-based integrated biorefinery on 24-acres at Dow's Freeport, Texas, site that will convert carbon dioxide into ethanol.

Using carbon dioxide, salt water, sunlight and non-arable land, Algenol Biofuel's technology produces ethanol. According to Algenol Biofuels, the first of its kind pilot-scale technology biorefinery has the potential to produce more than 100,000 gallons of ethanol per year using technology that doesn't use food as feedstock, doesn't require arable land or fresh water and absorbs carbon dioxide during production. The biorefinery is expected to consume two dry tons of carbon dioxide obtained from industrial emissions daily.

"We are very excited to be part of this ground-breaking alternative energy project, which is a good example of Dow's holistic approach to carbon dioxide capture and storage by adding value through chemistry," said Andrew Liveris, Dow chairman and CEO. "This project and the innovative technology involved offer great promise in the battle to help slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions."

Dow, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Membrane Technology & Research Inc. are contributing science, expertise, and technology to the project. Dow said the combined expertise offers new and innovative technology, with the opportunity for creating a breakthrough process for ethanol production.

In late June, Algenol Biofuels submitted its formal request to the U.S. DOE to obtain a grant for financial support to successfully conduct the pilot project. Upon approval of the grant, Dow and the other collaborators will work with Algenol Biofuels to demonstrate the technology at a level to sufficiently prove that it can be implemented on a commercial scale.

"We are thrilled to work with all of our collaborators to further develop and produce our next-generation biofuels," said Paul Woods, CEO of Algenol Biofuels. "This project sets the stage for commercial-scale production by proving two critical principles: first, that ethanol can be made economically without consuming fresh water or displacing valuable farm land better suited to food and feed production; second, that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide can be reduced by capturing carbon dioxide from a variety of industrial sources and using it to produce fuel that can displace conventional, high carbon gasoline."

In addition to leasing the land for the pilot-scale facility, Dow said it will develop the advanced materials and specialty films for the photobioreactor system; provide the technology and expertise related to water treatment solutions; and will provide Algenol Biofuels with access to a carbon dioxide source for the biorefinery from a nearby Dow manufacturing facility. The carbon dioxide will be supplied to the algae in the photobioreactors and will serve as the carbon source for the ethanol produced. The result is a carbon dioxide capture process which converts industrially derived carbon dioxide into more sustainable fuels and chemicals.

NREL plans to conduct laboratory and on-site analysis of simulated power plant flue gas, as well as industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions, and the impact of these various sources of carbon dioxide on the Algenol algae samples.

Georgia Tech will collaborate on the project and develop technologies and processes for delivering carbon dioxide to the algae and separating carbon dioxide from other gases. Georgia Tech, in collaboration with University of Georgia scientists, will design and test new ethanol separation technologies.

Membrane Technology and Research plans to analyze various ethanol and water separation systems, as well as design and construct a distillation-membrane hybrid for the project that is based on the company's BioSep Process. Membrane Technology and Research will also perform long-term continuous tests with the system, using ethanol from Algenol's process to confirm the technology's reliability and efficiency.