A number of companies—Sapphire Energy, Solazyme, and Bionavitas to name a few—are working on methods to convert algae into biofuel. But Genifuel wants to turn the pond scum into something different: natural gas. The company, which has obtained a license from Pacific Northwest National Labs for its technology, is using catalytic hydrothermal gasification to create natural gas out of algae in a quick and efficient manner.
PNNL's gasification process was originally developed to clean up industrial and food processing waste over ten years ago, but the process has only recently become usable for wet biomass like algae. The algae gasification process works by putting algae in ponds and placing it in gasifiers while it's still wet. A chemical catalyst allows the algae to cook at low temperatures and pressures. A synthetic gas (65% methane, 35% CO2) is produced and the carbon dioxide is pumped back into the algae for food.
Genifuel claims that its gasification process has advantages over processes used by companies that turn algae into liquid fuels. Algae fuel producers only use lipid oils—a small part of the organism—and are left with excess biomass. Gasification makes use of the entire organism, including carbohydrates, proteins, and lipid oils, so no waste is left behind. And while algae fuel producers have to separate water from algae to make fuel, Genifuel's process allows algae to go in wet.
We probably won't see Genifuel's product on the market for some time—the company is still seeking funding to build a prototype plant.
[Via Greentech Media]