|Single Simgae Bed (left); 1 Acre Notional Farm (right). Click to enlarge.|
Diversified Energy Corporation (DEC) has formed a partnership and licensing arrangement for an algae production system invented by XL Renewables, Inc. The system, called Simgae (for simple algae), utilizes common agriculture and irrigation components to keep costs to a minimum.
Capital, operations and maintenance costs for large-scale algae systems have been a barrier to adoption for algae-based fuels processing, according to Diversified. The Simgae approach promises 1/2 – 1/16th the capital cost, profitable oil production costs at $0.08 – $0.12/pound, and low operations and maintenance requirements. Under an exclusive worldwide license, Diversified Energy will provide systems engineering and project management to commercialize the technology.
The Simgae system uses thin-walled polyethylene tubing, called “Algae Biotape”, similar to conventional drip irrigation tubes, but optimized for diameter and thickness, and treated with special UV inhibitors instead of carbon black.
The tubing is laid out in parallel across a field. Under pressure, water containing the necessary nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and a small fraction of algae are slowly pumped into the biotape. As the flow moves along the biotape, CO2 is injected and oxygen is relieved through commercially-modified injection systems connected to common PVC piping. After roughly 24 hours the flow leaves the Algae Biotape with a markedly greater concentration of algae than was started.
All the supporting hardware components and processes involved in Simgae are direct applications from the agriculture industry. Re-use of these practices avoids the need for expensive and complex hardware and costly installation and maintenance.
The Simgae design is expected to provide an annual algae yield of 100 – 200 dry tons per acre. Capital costs are expected to be approximately $45,000 – $60,0000 (a 2 – 16 times improvement over competing systems) and profitable oil production costs are estimated at only $0.08 – $0.12/pound. These oil costs compare to recent market prices of feedstock oils anywhere from $0.25 – $0.44/pound.
The partners are currently conducting a demonstration of the technology in Casa Grande, Arizona. Continued testing and system optimization is expected to occur through 2008. In parallel, DEC is exploring approaches to combine its licensed Centia technology (a technology to make jet biofuel from any renewable oil, earlier post) with Simgae, thereby demonstrating an end-to-end crop to jet biofuel system.