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Test Drive of Aquaflow’s Wild-Algae Biodiesel

Scoop. A B5 (5%) blend of biodiesel produced by Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation (ABC) from wild algae successfully fueled a test drive in New Zealand by the Minister for Energy and Climate Change Issues, David Parker. The Aquaflow B5 also was used successfully several days earlier in a static engine test at Massey University’s Wellington campus.

Marlborough-based Aquaflow announced in May that it had produced the world’s first biodiesel derived from wild micro-algae harvested from local sewage ponds.

We believe we are the first company in the world to test drive a car powered by wild algae-based bio-diesel. This will come as a surprise to some international bio-diesel industry people who believe that this breakthrough is still years away.

—Barrie Leay, Aquaflow spokesperson

Algae are readily available and produced in large volumes in nutrient-rich waste streams such as at the settling ponds of Effluent Management Systems (EMS).

ABC harvests algae directly from the settling ponds of standard EM and other nutrient-rich water. Aquaflow is still working on the final stage of bio-remediation of the pond water, which will ensure that the discharge exceeds acceptable quality standards. The harvesting process can be used in many industries that produce a waste stream, including the transport, dairy, meat and paper industries.

Aquaflow agreed to undertake a pilot with Marlborough District Council late last year to extract algae from the settling ponds of its EMS based in Blenheim. By removing the main contaminant to use as a fuel feedstock, Aquaflow is also helping clean up the council’s water discharge. Dairy farmers and food processors can also benefit in similar ways by applying the harvesting technology to their nutrient-rich waste streams.

Our next step is to increase capacity to produce one million litres of bio-diesel from the Marlborough sewerage ponds over the next year.

—Barrie Leay

Aquaflow will launch a prospectus pre-Christmas as the company has already attracted considerable interest from potential investors. In August 2006, Aquaflow joined the Silicon Valley-based Girvan Institute of Technology. (Earlier post.)

The test drive signalled the completion of an R&D program funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST). ABC will be seeking further funding from FRST for the commercial scale-up of the technology next year.



Sounds like a great use for municipal wastewater.


Definitely an excellent scheme.

I'd like to know where the phosphorus in the waste stream winds up after the algae processing.  I've been reading up a bit on phosphorus uptake (see here) but I haven't any idea where it would wind up after biodiesel production or if it would be concentrated enough to sell as a phosphorus fertilizer.

Being able to reclaim phosphorus from sewage (and animal waste lagoons?) would be a huge advance.

shaun mann

you could run most diesel engines with 5% peanut butter (smooth, not chunky) and it'd still run ok for a test.

B20 is a reasonable starting point. B5 indicates a lack of confidence in the quality of the fuel.

Otherwise, a cool idea.


Funny thing is I've seen many non rated engines run on B100 or WVO but I've never seen any problems.


Sadly, this technology can not be scaled-up. Either you have to build dedicated ponds, or you have to use expensive closed photobioreactors. Both options have proved to be unfeasible in the past. Algae seem to be a dead end.


Gio you are out of your mineral mind! Algaeculture has a HUGE future. Try finding time with Green Fuel Technologies.


Andy, what do you mean? None of those algae-to-energy companies, including Green Fuel Technologies, have ever disclosed the actual cost (let alone GHG and energy balance) of their extremely expensive photobioreactors, which are made from steel, oil, and glass.

The Aquatic Species Program, the Japanese algae program, the German algae program all dismissed large-scale algae production in photobioreactors very quickly as being way too expensive. Open ponds resulted in very low yields and unstable cultures.

So as long as all those algae companies refuse to disclose the actual cost of the photobioreactors, I remain a skeptic.

A journalist recently asked De Beers fuels, who is investing in Green Fuel Technologies, how much the reactors cost because that's the only relevant question. And De Beers didn't give a hint, knowing very well that the technology isn't competitive. Instead, De Beers issued a press release full of irrelevant details. Enough said, I think.


Gio has a point. We know the system works, given that GreenFuel is licensing their tech and they're building their engineering scale unit in Arizona right now. I'm pretty certain that they know full well that the cost issue is a problem. If the algae oil costs $5 a gallon it's not going to be competitive with conventional oil unless it has a subsidy of some kind.

Nevertheless, I'm optimistic that these are solvable problems. Algae is one of a very few technologies that can be a replacement for oil.


And I'm betting on biogas. In Europe it's being used on an ever larger scale as a transport fuel. It yields far more energy per hectare than either biodiesel, bioethanol and biosynfuels (biomass-to-liquids).
1 hectare of maize yields 50% more energy if converted into biogas than it does into ethanol.
Production costs are considerably lower as well.
And it's the cleanest of all biofuels. Can be scaled-up very easily too. If obtained from waste, it's carbon-negative.
Can be mixed and fed into the natural gas grid.

For a good overview of biogas as a transport fuel in Europe (with production costs and energy and greenhouse gas balances), see this file:

We need a biogas hybrid. That would be hyper efficient and mega-clean.


Apparently greencarcongress thinks I'm a spammer, doesn't allow me to post the reference. Let me try again:

search google for "Bio Im Tank"

Comparative overview of production costs, yields per hectare, final costs and energy and GHG balances of biodiesel, bioethanol, biomass-to-liquids and biogas.


Even biogas depends on primary productivity, and there isn't enough to go that way.  Do the math.

UNH claims 5 billion BTU/ha/yr productivity from algae.  That's believable, being about 10 times the best productivity of hybrid Miscanthus.  Even if you only get twice the productivity of Miscanthus, that's still something in the neighborhood of 5000 gallons of fuel per acre per year.  Besides, the goal of this system isn't to make fuel, it's to purify wastewater.  If you can turn the purification into a profit center, GREAT!


Poet, you beat me too it. A lot of breweries are taking a similar approach with effluent to biogas. The biogas then ends up in microturbines (or in the case of Sierra Nevada into SOFCs). The electricity savings are nice (New Belgium brewery in Ft Collins, CO produces about 65% of their electricy with their digesters), but the real money maker is the water treatment cost reductions. By stripping out so much nutrient rich water from their waste stream they save a fortune on their treatment bills.


I've always heard that one of the minor advantages of biodiesel made from discarded cooking oil is that the exhaust smells good, kind of like french fries. I can't help wondering what the exhaust will smell like with biodiesel made from sewage tanks though. Doesn't sound too appealing.


Gio wrote: "The Aquatic Species Program.... open ponds resulted in very low yields."

Up to 10,000 gallons of algae oil per acre, or about 100 times what you get from soya oil. That sure is a very low yield indeed. Not.

Incidentally, the US Aquatic Species Program concluded that algae oil harvested using their systems would cost about twice that of fossil oil. But that was when crude oil cost 20USD per barrel. We are now at over 60USD per barrel.


"1 hectare of maize yields 50% more energy if converted into biogas than it does into ethanol."

Ok, but is there any comparison of their well-to-wheels efficiency? It would likely be a far bigger investment into our transportation infrastructure to support distributing (and consuming) biogas/natural gas than ethanol. Plus, you still have to expend energy compressing these gases to even come close to being able to be used as a transport fuel. The tanks are pretty expensive too. Is any of that factored in?

What method of ethanol production was used for this comparison?

There are many claims that utilizing the same feedstock to produce butanol instead of ethanol can produce upwards of 40% more energy per unit of input. With an infrastructure that would require very minimal changes to support butanol, plus the inherent benefits of liquid fuels over gaseous fuels, I'd have to bet on butanol for transportation use.

I'm not saying biogas doesn't have a use. It just sounds like it would be better to just be mixed into our current natural gas chains.


Gio wrote: "The Aquatic Species Program.... open ponds resulted in very low yields."

Clett replied:
"Up to 10,000 gallons of algae oil per acre, or about 100 times what you get from soya oil. That sure is a very low yield indeed. Not."

Please read the Aquatic Species Programme's reports. 10,000 gallons per acre was in ultra-expensive closed photobioreactors. The thingies that can't be scaled up.

When they dismissed these reactors and went to open ponds, algae cultures became unstable and yielded a meagre 10 grams per square metre per day, on

That comes down to a total biomass of 36.5 MT/ha year, which far lower as that of many tropical crops such as palm or sugar cane. Record palm biomass yields stand at 220 MT/ha year, 7 times that of algae in open ponds.

So there.

Please read the Aquatic Species Programme's findings!


"ultra-expensive closed photobioreactors"

What information leads you to that description?
If you want to see ultra expensive take a look at an oil-sands project. Yet they remain economical because the high original investment pays off over many years.


Please read the Aquatic Species Programme's reports. 10,000 gallons per acre was in ultra-expensive closed photobioreactors. The thingies that can't be scaled up.

Based on older technology, maybe. I think GreenFuel and other companies working on this know that cost is a major obstacle. And if the bioreactors really don't scale, then the company will grind to a halt once that Engineering Scale Unit is completed and the results are clear.


The company web site claims that the units are economical on a stand-alone basis even before you add in the value of reduced GHG
They also site low construction costs (no mension of "ultra")


wasnt MIT starting a test on a 1000 MW power plant(fossil fuel) where they where going to use a close algee system to make bio fuel


UIUC's tests with Miscanthus have averaged about 25 tons/ha/year, so 36 tons could be an improvement.  I say "could be", because it all depends on the value-added.  If you can use algae to remove e.g. phosphorus from wastewater and concentrate it into something worth transporting, it would help close nutrient loops.  If it costs far more to process than grass, it could be a liability (but oils are far easier to turn into fuel than cellulose).


Just use pyrolysis on the biomass and make your own oil. This has been done successfully by heating the biomass in the absence of oxygen.

Paul Dietz

Just use pyrolysis on the biomass and make your own oil.

But the resulting 'BioOil' is nasty stuff, acidic and unstable, unsuitable for use as a fuel in vehicles.


"Please read the Aquatic Species Programme's reports."

These tests were done in a relatively hostile (cold) environment in New Mexico for a very short time. Loads of technologies are introduced before their time. Algal oil is clearly poised to make a serious contribution - especially in systems where waste is converted producing a totally new revenue stream for the business.

Also, a photo-bioreactor is the overly fancy name for a clear container of water in which pond scum grows. Alright, and is harvested. It is not fusion.

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