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Early Stage Algae Biofuel Company Closes $10.5M Funding Round; Additional $5M for Pilot Plant

Weyer
Solix calculations on the theoretical maximum production of algal oil. (See below.) Click to enlarge. Source: Kristina Weyer, Solix Biofuels

Solix Biofuels, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based early-stage company focused on algae-based intermediates for fuel and chemical production (earlier post), has raised $10.5 million in its first round of outside funding, and has reached an agreement with investors for an additional commitment of $5 million, to be used to build an algae biofuel facility near Durango, Colo. The pilot project is intended to showcase Solix’s ability to produce biofuel and feedstocks for the chemicals industry at commercially-feasible production levels and costs.

The funding will support Solix’s development of its fourth-generation technology, including a proprietary closed photo-bioreactor system intended to produce biocrude from algae cost-effectively. The $5 million follow-on commitment from the investor group will provide construction financing for the pilot plant, which will be developed jointly by Solix Biofuels and Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC.

The biofuel plant will be located on a ten-acre site on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Southwest Colorado. It will be built in two phases, with the first to be completed in 12 to 18 months and consisting of four acres of photo-bioreactors for growing algae, and one acre for a lab facility. Upon completion of the first phase, Solix will build an additional five-acre expansion that will allow the pilot facility to produce at commercial scale.

Two primary factors contribute to algal oil yield: the productivity of the algae, and their lipid content as a percentage of the biomass. Both vary with the species of algae. Estimates of oil production from algae range widely, including some very large projections (e.g., 100,000 gallons acre-1 yr-1 as reported on CNN in April 2008 , which would exceed the theoretical limits of photosynthesis, according to several analyses).

At the recent 2008 Algae Biomass Summit in Seattle, Washington, Dr. Kristina Weyer of Solix presented calculations of the theoretical maximum for algal oil production. She used two cases:

  • A theoretical case, including perfectly clear skies at the equator (where solar energy is at a maximum), maximally efficient photosynthesis, 70% oil content in the algae, and other efficiencies assumed perfect.

    Only about 45% of sunlight has the suitable wavelength (400 to 700 nm) (photosynthetically available radiation, PAR) to drive photosynthesis. With this as a basis, Weyer assumed no loss of light transmission loss and no reduced photon absorption. She factored in the 73.3% inherent photosynthetic loss, but did not factor in cellular energy use.

  • A practical case, using site-specific solar data from six locations (Kuala Lumpur, Denver, Málaga, Tel Aviv, Honolulu and Phoenix), maximally efficient photosynthesis, 50% oil, and more realistic assumptions for other efficiencies.

    She assumed a 10% light transmission loss, 50% reduced photon absorption, and cellular energy use of 40%.

In the theoretical case, she calculated maximum algal oil production of 53,000 gal acre-1 year -1. In the practical cases, the yield ranged from a low of 4,900 gallons in Kuala Lumpur to a high of 6,500 gallons in Phoenix. However, even the reduced practical range for yield is far above current capabilities, as presented at the Summit.

In the concluding presentation of the Summit, Dr. John Benemann calculated maximum production with current technology at around ~2,000 gallons acre-1 year -1, with a potential upside of 2-3x with genetically improved algae. “Anything much higher is fantasy,” he said.

(Benemann began studying microalgae in 1974 at UC Berkeley as an independent investigator at the Sanitary Engineering Research Laboratory. He has been a full-time consultant for nearly 20 years and during much of this time has also been a part-time researcher at UC Berkeley.)

Solix says that currently, algae grown in photo-bioreactors at its headquarters yield more than five times the amount of fuel per acre of land per year than agriculture-based fuels including ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy and canola, at their current commercial yields.

Although yields vary, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. pegs biodiesel yield from soybeans in the US at 66 gallons per acre, and from canola at 92 gallons per acre. (Other estimates put average soybean oil yield at 46-48 gallons acre-1.)Pioneer puts the oil content of soybeans at ~18% and of canola at ~44%.

Solix engineers have created systems that automatically adjust for environmental changes such as sunlight and temperature to optimize growing conditions. The Solix system has the ability to capture emissions directly from power plants and factories.

Solix Biofuels is a spin-off and technology partner of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. Solix seed funds were used to sponsor research by CSU faculty and graduate students to identify algae species with the best potential to grow at large scale and produce high yields of fuel and chemical feedstocks, and to develop technology that can bring the process to commercial scale.

Dr. Bryan Willson, professor of mechanical engineering at CSU, serves as chief technology officer for Solix Biofuels and is a co-founder of the company and a former member of its board of directors. Willson also serves as director of the Clean Energy Supercluster, which aims to speed the development of technological innovation—such as the algae-to-oil photo-bioreactor—to the commercial marketplace.

The Series A funding was led by I2BF Venture Capital, a London-based venture capital firm focused on biofuels, and Bohemian Investments, a private investment company based in Fort Collins, Colo. Participating in the round are Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC, an Ignacio, Colo.-based company that manages alternative energy investments for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe; Valero Energy Corp., the largest US oil refinery operator, based in San Antonio, Texas; and Infield Capital.

Two new members will join the Solix Biofuels board of directors: Jim Gillingham of Valero Energy; and Rebecca Kauffman, president and chief operating officer of Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC. They join other Solix Biofuels board members including: Brian Klemsz, Bohemian Investments; Tim Lewin, I2BF Management; and Solix CEO Henston.

Comments

arnold

@ $1per liter $7,500 with potential to 22,500per acre/year for the 2,000 to 6,000 gaollon scenarios.

I assume this is some form of bio reactor that inherently limits area for reasons of cost, development intensity and suitable available land.

Where infrastructure especially including natural landforms. Ocean extraction could be explored for applicatiom that doesnt require large volume pumping just as rivers move water under natures forces.

I think of the carnegie wave power generation that pumps seawater to land based power generation, so we have water under pressure already coarse screened with a uv harvesting potential of *? M?acres. Theres
a convenient base load power station with off peak potential at the front door that could batch process the harvest wihout an energy penalty or at least very economical rate.


On small acreage where a high price is placed on the associated water remediation, waste handling and byproduct returns that may aim for a doubling or even tripling the economic return. There may be a case for bio reactors.
Where these associated outcomes are already a priority and the water tranport is designed for uv exposure, There may be potetially millions of acres of such capacity.

A matter or redefinition.

At that point, capacity goes way high and costs plummet.

The technology would be specifically designed with this in mind so side channels of ordinary 'healthy rivers, or at strategic points nearer to resource (in this instance waste water from ag, sewage, other food process could be seen as collection points.

This almost invisible, combined 'energy, water, fiber and and mineral harvesting' area is a bit of a dream for me.

"This almost invisible, combined 'energy, water, fiber and and mineral harvesting' area is a bit of a dream for me."

Then you'd love OTEC; it's an energy source that creates an artificial upwelling rich in nutrients.

arnold

turbines for thermal upwelling or straight electro chemical potential.

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2006/0263646.html

ai_vin

OTEC for off-shore and "electro chemical potential" where river meets ocean?

Darius

It always been too good to be true 100 000 gal/acre.

clett

The maximum theoretical yield is easy to calculate.

The sunniest areas of the world receive 5 kWh of sunlight per m2 per day on average over the year, which is 7,385,775 kWh per acre per year incident sunshine.

A gallon of algal oil contains ~40 kWh in chemical energy. So at 100% conversion efficiencies everywhere (not going to happen of course), the maximum yield would be 7,385,775 / 40 = 184,644 gallons per acre per year.

However, if you assume photosynthesis to be around 10% efficient and metabolic losses of 50%, you end up with a theoretical maximum of just 9,000 gallons per acre.

Henry Gibson

If you can actually find a piece of "dirty" coal you can see that some kinds have annual layers.

Sugar Cane is one of the most efficient crops how much C is fixed into the whole plant every year? ..HG..

mr.khani

Dear Sir
Hello
I am managing director of a company called ‘Mehr Pakhsh.
We are planning to produce Bio diesel , using alga oil. Nice to know that until now there has been no one working on alga production in an industrial way and oil extraction of that in IRAN.
I have visited your web site and have some questions
1- if you have any interest to have a representative in IRAN?
2- if yes, under which situation?
It will be great if you will answer as soon as possible.


Best regards

Roohollah Khani

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