Royal Dutch Shell plc and HR Biopetroleum, a Hawaii-based algal biofuels company, have formed a joint venture—Cellena—to build a pilot facility in Hawaii to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biofuel. Shell will have the majority share in Cellena.
Construction of the demonstration facility on the Kona coast of Hawaii Island will begin immediately. The site, leased from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), is near existing commercial algae enterprises, primarily serving the pharmaceutical and nutrition industries.
The facility will grow only non-modified, marine microalgae species in open-air ponds using proprietary technology. Algae strains used will be indigenous to Hawaii or approved by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Protection of the local environment and marine ecosystem has been central to facility design. Once the algae are harvested, the vegetable oil will be extracted. The facility’s small production volumes will be used for testing.
An academic research programme will support the project, screening natural microalgae species to determine which ones produce the highest yields and the most vegetable oil. The program will include scientists from the Universities of Hawaii, Southern Mississippi and Dalhousie, in Nova Scotia, Canada.
An advantage of algae is their rapid growth. They can double their mass several times a day and produce at least 15 times more oil per hectare than alternatives such as rape, palm soya or jatropha. Moreover, facilities can be built on coastal land unsuitable for conventional agriculture. Over the long term, algae cultivation facilities also have the potential to capture waste CO2 directly from industrial facilities such as power plants. The Cellana demonstration will use bottled CO2 to explore this potential.
Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small CO2 footprint. This demonstration will be an important test of the technology and, critically, of commercial viability.—Graeme Sweeney, Shell Executive Vice President Future Fuels and CO2