Commercially-viable photobioreactor launched
Renewed World Energies claims world first
by Helen Tunnicliffe
October 14, 2009
A SOUTH Carolina firm has unveiled what it says is the world’s first commercially-viable, fully-automated algal photobioreactor for the production of biofuels.
The closed-system photobioreactor has been developed by Renewed World Energies (RWE), which has displayed a working prototype at the Algae Biomass Convention in San Diego, US. Founders Tim Tompkins, a mechanical and chemical engineer and Richard Armstrong, an electrical engineer, say that the system is scalable as it is modular, gives greater yields than existing technologies and is more cost effective. It is also fully automated and can help reduce pollution – waste flue gases can be pumped through the system to provide CO2 and NOX for algal growth.
The company says that its main advantage over competitors is the automation and process technology. The system is controlled by proprietary software and hardware configuration with a touch screen providing diagnostics and control for an operator. The instrumentation, valves, algorithms, and control parameters were designed by RWE specifically for the photobioreactor.
The photobioreactor consists of vertical ‘ponds’ or panels approximately 8 cm thick and 120 cm tall, an automated process control system, and harvesting equipment. The panels are designed to allow maximum light availability for algal growth. Water, nutrients and gases are circulated through the panels. The reactor can make use of CO2 and NOX from flue gases, or use compressed gases. Algae ready for harvesting first passes through a pre-screening process which reduces the water content by 20%. A final screening process removes further water if necessary before the algae is processed into biofuels using standard technology.
The process produces both algal oil and algae cake, which can be fed as a food supplement to livestock or to make fish feed. The company says the system can also be used to grow algae for other purposes such as pharmaceutical products and cosmetics, as well as fertiliser.
“Although algae photo-bioreactor systems are becoming more prevalent, many do not address the specific challenges found in algae,” says Armstrong. “We created a platform based on enhancing the properties of algae in order to convert it into usable forms of biomass. The system is capable of responding to all strains of algae, which was a key aspect in our technological development strategy.”
A pilot facility near Georgetown is currently testing the system with different strains of microalgae and the company is negotiating with various universities and biodiesel and energy companies for further testing. The system’s patent is pending.
SOURCE: TCE TODAY