Algae Fuel Roundup: Planes, Virginia & Algenol’s Billion-Gallon Plant

The prospect of turning cheap, slimy algae into valuable, high-grade fuels has attracted millions of dollars of investment, including those of Bill Gates. He’s not alone — everyone from airlines to municipalities to foreign federal governments are intrigued by the possibilities. Here’s a roundup of this week’s algae fuel news.

Boeing Hopes Greener Jet Fuel Will Fly: Boeing, along with a consortium of airlines and Honeywell’s energy technology developer UOP, have established the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to develop better jet fuels. The sustainability of aviation biofuels will be guided by the World Wildlife Fund’s Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels and the National Resource Defense Council. The group’s first projects will examine the lifecycle impact of fuels derived from algae and jathropa. Nine airlines from all over the world are part of the initiative and collectively account for 15 percent of all jet fuel burned, the group says. Startups like Solazyme, Aquaflow Bionomics, Sapphire Energy and a new company from Arizona State University’s Laboratory for Algae Research & Biotechnology are all developing algae biofuels they hope will take wing.

Virgina Opens Experimental Algae Farm: The Old Dominion has opened its first algae farm with the intention of using polluted waste water to make valuable biofuel. Currently, sewage rife with nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia is being dumped into Chesapeake Bay causing algal blooms to grow and choke out other life. Algal Farms Inc. is working with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District and the city of Hopewell, Va. to redirect the fertile waste water to its hungry algae. The plant currently spans just one acre but the plan is to scale it up to 2,000 acres producing some 6 million gallons of fuel a year in the next six years. The public-private venture even reportedly has ecumenical support: “Lord,” Reverend Macon Walton prayed, “bless, keep and protect this farm and this algae.”

Algenol Makes Ethanol Directly from Algae: Most algae-to-fuel startups grow algae so they can process the microplants into fuel. Naples, Fla.-based Algenol has a different method — collect ethanol vapors from the algae, which involves neither killing the plants or nor the use of an expensive refining process. The startup’s founder, Paul Woods, has been working on the science since the 1980s and reportedly has $70 million in backing. The next step is a massive $850 million project with Sonora Fields S.A.P.I. de C.V., a wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican-owned BioFields. Alegnol says the project will start operations next year in Mexico and will eventually deliver a billion gallons of cheap fuel a year. Olé!