By Erin Voegele | February 02, 2011
Algaeventure Systems Inc. has been awarded a $1.5 million loan from the Ohio development department’s R&D investment loan fund to support the purchase of machinery and equipment to manufacture its algae dewatering systems. The $2.5 million project is expected to create 200 new jobs and retain 20 others.
According to David Coho, Algaeventure’s vice president of business development, his company has developed a solid-liquid separation technology that enables energy-efficient algae culture dewatering. “The challenge with microalgae is, how do you separate it?” he said. “It’s kind of like taking a glass of water and adding food coloring to it, and then trying to get the food coloring back out. That’s the challenge, because microalgae can be so incredibly small.”
Traditionally, the method used to dewater algae focuses on the use of centrifuge processes, Coho said. These high-energy centrifuge systems spin the entire water mass to try advancing and speeding up sedimentation. “That is extremely expensive,” he said. For example, Coho said studies have shown that taking a 10-micron-sized microalgae species at a concentration of 3 grams per liter of water can use up to $3,400 in energy to dewater it to 10 percent solids.
“Industry experts have said that you need to be less than $50 a ton in dewatering for algae to be viable,” he said. “We’ve developed a technology called micro-solid liquid separation. What we are able to do, without adding vacuum pressure, head pressure, or high energy spinning the water mass, is dewater that same species of algae in the that same concentration up to 20 percent solids with an energy cost of about $1.92. So, we are really shattering the barriers that have been found with dewatering technologies.”
In fact, Coho noted that Algaeventure has earned a merit award through the U.S. DOE’s Advanced Research Project Agency. “We were one of 3,700 applicants that initially submitted [an application package],” he said. The company was selected as one of 37 award recipients. “We were the seventh largest award for the tremendous impact that this technology can have. The Department of Energy’s support—and I think acknowledgement—has been extremely valuable to our development, and getting the word out on this technology we have.”
The technology works by leveraging the natural properties of water, Coho said. “We are not applying high sheer forces. We’re not applying high vacuum or head pressure. We’re not forcing [the culture] through a membrane for a filtrate,” he continued. “What we do is take the properties of water, where water molecules will stick together, and we’ll pull that chain through our filter media. A lot of our technology is developed from biomimicry. A lot of times what we’ll do is, when we see a processing issue or challenge, we look to nature and see how nature handles the issue, and we try to create technologies that will in essence perform some biomimicry.”
Algaeventure has supplied pilot-scale dewatering systems to companies and groups in several countries, including the U.S., Austria, New Zealand and Australia. The company also offers a lab-scale model of the system for use by researchers and technologists at universities, and national and corporate labs. In addition, Algaeventure has begun taking orders for commercial-scale systems, two of which are currently being constructed.
The funding received from the Ohio Department of Development will help Algaeventure further develop its systems as they are built for the market and demonstration, Coho said. “The loan is going to help us with purchasing the type of assets that we need to further this technology, and really it’s completely focused on the commercialization of these technologies. And building a business and creating jobs here in Ohio.”
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