Algae conference delegates discuss technology scale-up

OriginOil CEO, Riggs Eckelberry can envision 250,000 sq km of CO2-fedalgae covering Australia, producing vaulable oils and petroleum.

The US-based oil-extraction entrepreneur spoke at the Algae World Australia conference in Townsville in August.

International researchers and business speakers, such as MBD Energy managing director, Andrew Lawson, Loy Yang Power business development manager, Roland Davies and CSIRO Energy Transformed Flagship’s Dr David Batten joined Mr Eckelberry to discuss the future of algae and tour local algae facilities. The event was chaired by MBD Energy agribusiness and government relations director, Tony StClair and Murdoch University’s Dr Navid Moheimani.

Near the conference was James Cook University’s algal research and development facility, featuring MBD Energy’s algae extraction technology and end-to-end algae production, which the delegates toured on the second day.

The technology is being used at southern Queensland’s Tarong power station, where algae is fed by CO2 from coal turbines. The resulting diluted concentration of algae then goes through OriginOil’s single-step extraction process.

According to Mr Eckelberry, demand for algae is finally being met by the Townsville test facility and Tarong power station site.

“What’s great about Tarong is its built for testing, it’s built for trying different ideas and it’s really unique in the world – and that’s why we can’t wait to get this thing going,” Mr Eckelberry told Energy Source & Distribution.

OriginOil’s single-step extraction uses electromagnetic pulsing to precisely cause the algae to bunch together, compromising its the cell structure and causing it to separate. MBD has committed to large-scale OriginOil systems to harvest algae at the one-hectare Townsville site.

“MBD are really astonishing. These are some of the most dynamic guys around,” Mr Eckelberry said.

“They’re visionaries. They understand the nature of the problem, which is, ‘How do you keep the energy cost down and deal with the vast amounts of water?’ So they understood that was the lynchpin of algae production. They’ve been fabulous every since, we couldn’t be happier with our partner and we’ll be negotiating some long-term relationships coming out of this,” he said.

There are still a few challenges ahead for the companies involved in algae production, including scaling-up the technology as well as value-chain integration.

“We need to move beyond the scale that we have. Our process is capable of using up a lot of algae in a very few minutes because it’s very high volume… so we’re looking forward to the one-hectare at the Tarong power station where we’ll have a couple of million hectares under cultivation,” Mr Eckelberry said.

The upcoming Algae World Asia takes place 15-16 November in Beijing.