Ron Brown

Ron Brown

Last year,  I became a founding director and Chief Technical Officer of Aquatic Resource Farming, Inc. in a scheme to grow algae for its oil for use as a renewable fuel feedstock.  We built a 300-gallon concrete raceway for  $300.00.  (Plastic raceways of about the same size are  commercially available for $7,000.00.)  I designed, built, and patented a bio-reactor at a cost of about $4,000.00, as opposed to at least tens of thousands of dollars for its equivalent.  We tried four different techniques for harvesting the algae from the water (flocculation, foam flotation, electrophoresis, and centrifugation), finally implementing a harvesting strategy that uses two 60-liter-per-hour cream separators from Ukraine, bought through eBay at a cost of $135.00 each, saving thousands of dollars.  To extract the oil from the algae, we tried solvent extraction, with some success.  Searching for a more cost-effective solution, I bought a hand-operated screw expeller press from Rajkumar Engineering for $100.00.  After some false starts, we were able to use it to extract oil from the dried algae.  Larger units are available from China for $3,000.00.  Prices for expeller presses specifically designed for use with algae start at $9,000.00.

Although we were able to surmount all the technical obstacles, there were a few surprises:  We discovered that the bioreactor was not even necessary after the first batch.  If we could just save five gallons of dense culture or a couple of kilos of algae paste from  the current batch, it could easily be preserved in a refrigerator.  Although we had arranged for $80,000 in capital, this never materialized, leaving the company with an uncertain future

We are poised to set up a 1/10th acre pilot plant to demonstrate the scalability and commercial feasibility of our process, but there is no money.   We found a grant opportunity with the National Science Foundation which would allow us to continue, but the deadline is fast approaching, and it is not clear whether we will be able to get everything set up properly in time to meet the deadline.

It has been an exciting year or so, and lots of fun.  Time will tell whether we can pull through the present crisis.

By Ron Brown

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3 Comments on Road to Renewable Energy Bumpier than Expected

  1. It is a good way and I love the fact that this will help our Environment.Algae biofuel is a great way to save a substantial amount of money on your diesel fuel costs. Not forgetting you can also save big on your heating cost if you live in colder areas. The basic aspect of algae biofuel is to transform algal oil into biodiesel, a fuel source that can be used in your diesel engine powered vehicles.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deepak Gupta, Deepak Gupta. Deepak Gupta said: New blog posting, Road to Renewable Energy Bumpier than Expected – http://ow.ly/1rzi6w […]

    • Ben Harack@Renewable Energy
      Twitter: VisionOfEarth
      says:

      I hope that if the grant(s) never materialize that you and your team will publicize the details of what you did. Somebody, somewhere, may be able to do a whole lot of good for the world if they had in-hand your recipe for a cost-effective algae-oil system.

      That said, I understand wanting to wait to see if you can get funding to do the pilot project yourself. All the power to you!

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