Univenture claims algae-to-fuel breakthrough

The Ohio company says it can reduce the cost of harvesting, dewatering and drying algae by more than 99% making it an economically feasible source of fuel.

Univenture says its AlgaeVenture Systems unit has demonstrated the process to the satisfaction of its funding sources.

``For nearly 40 years, it has been widely accepted that if the cost of removing, harvesting and dewatering algae could be reduced to $50 a ton, algae could become a significant source of fuel,’’ says Ross Youngs, chief executive of Univenture.

``We have demonstrated a truly disruptive technology that reduces that cost by more than 99 percent - from $875 per ton to $1.92 per ton,’’ he adds. ``This breakthrough moves algae back into the spotlight as an economically viable, plentiful source of fuel.’’

AlgaeVenture Systems' technology - developed by studying processes that exist in nature - utilizes a variety of methods of moving water, including capillary effect, cohesion, absorption and transpiration pull. This method is used by trees and plants to move water from their roots to the highest growth, often hundreds of feet straight up.

"The process is counterintuitive," Youngs says, "because with so much water and so little algae, it is natural to want to move the algae. But moving water instead is very efficient, and all water is recycled."

AlgaeVenture Systems' prototype is scalable and portable, and can be custom made to a customer's specifications. While designed specifically for microalgae, the invention is applicable to several other separating and dewatering applications.

The announcement comes at a time of rising interest in algae. The US Energy Department (DOE) originally studied algae as an alternative energy source after the 1970s oil embargo, but determined that even though algae offered significant capability to produce biofuels, the cost was prohibitive. DOE ended its algae program in 1996, but interest was revived when oil reached record prices in 2008.

Univenture established AlgaeVenture Systems to address the growth of algae in industrial and agricultural areas in Ohio and other Midwest areas that demonstrated opportunities for algae farms to be located near existing waste and water sources. This would create opportunities to develop a variety of products - including fuels - while cleaning up land and water waste.

AlgaeVenture Systems focuses on manufacturing and installing simplified greenhouse ponds near power plants, wastewater plants, farm waste facilities, food processing plants and other locations where the geography and climate support algae growth year-round.

``Algae farmers can grow food, feed or fuel, and can change crops and be ready for harvest in less than 20 days,’’ says Youngs. ``Algae can protect fuel supplies because it can be grown virtually anywhere in the United States, and can benefit national security by decentralizing the fuel supply and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.’’