Australian scientists say they are achieving the world’s best current production rates of oil from algae grown in open saline ponds. A joint A$3.3 million (US$3 million) project led by Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, and involving the University of Adelaide in South Australia, has shown more than 12 months of consistent results at both universities.
It was previously believed impossible to grow large quantities of algae for biofuel in open ponds consistently and without contamination, but we’ve proven it can be done.
—Project Leader Professor Michael Borowitzka from Murdoch University
The project has received A$1.89 million funding from the Australian Government as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.
The project is working simultaneously on all steps in the process of microalgal biofuels production, from microalgae culture, harvesting of the algae and extraction of oil suitable for biofuels production, said Professor Borowitzka.Based on current results, construction of a multi-million dollar pilot plant to test the whole process on a larger scale will begin in Karratha in the North-West in January and is expected to be operational by July.
Borowitzka said that the project has achieved production rates of 50 tonnes of algae per hectare per year (20.2 tonnes/acre), more than half of which is converted to oil. At 50% oil content (10.1 tonne/acre), that would work out to approximately 2,900 gallons·ac-1·yr-1.
These high production rates are expected to increase at the new pilot plant due to the even better climatic conditions in Karratha.
The first stage will cost A$1.5 million and further funding is being sought for future stages estimated to cost between A$5-10 million.
Dr. David Lewis from the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering says a key aspect of the project is to show that commercial levels of algae can be grown without competing for resources with food crops.
International partners in the project are Indian algae producer Parry Nutraceuticals, and South China University of Technology.