OriginOil, a company specializing in the production of fuel from algae, aims to change the way in which the biodiesel industry thinks of algae production. They argue that the process should be more akin to brewing than to farming. By moving the process indoors OriginOil is able to produce more oil, more quickly—and they’re building a modular and expansable oil system to prove it.
From an article in Biodiesel Magazine:
The future of algae is aglow, if the claims of Origin Oil are correct. The company presented its photobioreactor technology at the National Algae Association Business Plan Forum on July 17 in The Woodlands, Texas.
“We just filed our fifth patent and that signaled our sort of coming out party,” said Riggs Eckelberry, president and chief executive officer of Origin Oil Inc. “It was the first time we have discussed our technology in detail and discussed our vision.”
Origin Oil’s algae production system incorporates several unique innovations. “Algae has always been one of those promising things that is just a few years away,” Eckelberry said. “We discovered there are a number of speed bumps in the process that add up to be a show stopper. If you have a problem with every step, it adds up to something that just doesn’t work. Our approach was not to think of algae as a crop but as an industrial process.”
The company calls the first patented step “quantum fracturing” which creates micronized bubbles to carry carbon dioxide and other nutrients to the algae. Eckelberry said this system is a very efficient way to deliver elements necessary for growth to the algae. “We launched the company with that original patent,” Eckelberry said.
The second stage of the process uses the company’s Helix Bioreactor. The system differs from most photobioreactors in that it’s lit internally by low power LEDs which are tuned to the red and blue frequencies that deliver the most energy to the algae. Eckelberry said these LEDs could be powered by wind, solar or other renewable resources. “We strongly prefer indirect lighting,” he said. “We love the sun, but we don’t want to have direct sunlight. Algae only consumes a small part of the sun’s spectrum, less than 10 percent. Some of the other rays are actually harmful to the algae. We believe that if you can get the right wavelength to the algae cells, then you will have much more efficient growth.”
The final step in the process uses the Quantum Fracturing process to harvest the algae. Creating the microscopic bubbles also creates ultrasonic waves and heat. Combining these effects with low power tuned microwaves disrupts the cell wall of the algae, releasing the oil which can then be skimmed off.