OriginOil’s BioReactor Technology – A breakthrough in the production of oil from algae

Before setting out to develop a new technology to maximize oil yields from alage and to lower energy use in production phase, OriginOil set itself 3 primary challenges:

  1. Algae does not like agitation of water, one of the challenges is how to introduce CO2 and nutrients into the algae without disruption or over-aerating the algae.
  2. Light distribution needs to be evenly distributed and cost-effective.
  3. Algae organisms have a tough cell wall, this cell wall needs to be cracked with an energy inexpensive process – the challenge is to maximize oil yield by cracking as many algae cell walls as possible with the least energy possible.

Recently OriginOil have announced the successful automation of the Helix BioReactor system. This is a system that optimizes algae growth and makes commercialization of algae oil at large scale possible. The system is a complete algae growth and extraction system, and it uses an array of proprietary technologies, including Quantum FracturingTM  and the Helix BioReactorTM , to enable a continuous oil-production industry.

            Helix BioReactor
   source: www.originoil.com

Quantum Fracturing (patent pending) 
Quantum FracturingTM  is OriginOil’s technology. It not only addresses but overcomes the 3 challenges above by using the science of mass transfer and fluid fracturing. It breaks down and unlocks the chemical properties that hinder efficient algae production and oil extraction. In the process, water, CO2 and other nutrients are fractured at very high pressure, this creates a slurry of micron sized bubbles which is fed to the algae at a lower pressure, thus not disrupting the algae cells.

Helix BioReactor (patent pending)
Due to its design (see photo above) the Helix BioReactor allows very low energy lights to penetrate every algae cell, unlike perhaps open natural ponds which only receive direct sunlight on the top layer and maybe 1 to 2 cm below. Furthermore, the Helix BioReactor features a rotating vertical shaft with very low energy lights arranged in a spiral pattern, which result in an unlimited number of layers. Each lighting element is specifically engineered to produce optimal light waves and frequencies specific to algae growth.  The design of the Helix BioReactor allows delivery of nutrients from the Quantum Fractured system including CO2 at optimal levels and evenly delivered for maximum efficiency and growth.
Solvent-Free Extraction Process (patent pending)
Cell walls in algae are very hard to break down and the process to crack these walls and hence release the oil is very energy intensive and costly. Chemical solvents are often used and these can be toxic and hence require careful handling.  OriginOil has now developed a system where chemical solvents are not used. The biomass goes through a cell breaking microwave cracking system after it has passed through a wave guide system where it receives low-wattage. Quantum Fracturing is then applied and the oil is extracted with ease, in a low-energy environmentally safe algae oil production system.
Modular and Scalable System (patent pending) 
For mass production of algae oil to be realistic and reach levels high enough to replace petroleum as an energy source, an algae growth system needs to be fully scalable.  This is why OriginOil’s system allows both horizontal and vertical “stacking” of Helix BioReactors into an integrated system network, which is;
  1. Fully automated
  2. Portable
  3. and remotely monitored.

The system developed by OriginOil seems a very efficient low-energy intensive unit which can produce oil for an array of products like diesel, gasoline, jet fuel, plastics without greenhouse gas emissions and completely CO2 neutral. Investments in algae oil production have added up this year to  $300 million and 2009 sees a definite increase in R&D in algae oil production.  Furthermore the price per gallon of the final product has dropped from $3000 per gallon in 2006 to $10-20 per gallon in 2008.

So it seems that the future for algae oil is promising. With the right government backups and policies, algae could replace crude oil imports from the middle east thus making the US energy independent and secure.

Tony Piccolo – Aquatic Biofuel Specialist, The Netherlands


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2 Responses to OriginOil’s BioReactor Technology – A breakthrough in the production of oil from algae

  1. Oilgae says:

    Useful, detailed post Tony.

    It is interesting to read about the new tech from OriginOil, but I think it is important to wait for a while to check out whether this will produce oil and biodiesel on a sustainable scale and also whether further improvements are possible in this tech.

    The problem with the algae energy industry has pretty much been the same as with the rest of the biofuels and renewable energy industry – there has been a lot of hype, and it becomes difficult even for industry professionals to determine what is going to last forever versus what is just a one-day-wonder. Let’s hope technologies such as these from OriginOil prove to be the former.

    That said, 2009 might very well be a big year for oil fromalgae, though I’d presume that it could take another 3-4 years before any company is able to make this a success on a commercial scale.

    I represent Oilgae, and we are a premier resource for information and interaction on oil and energy from algae. More from our site http://www.oilgae.com (and we have also come out with a comprehensive industry report on algae energy (more on this here http://www.oilgae.com/ref/report/report.html )

    And by the way, I’m a fan of your blog – lots of useful stuff – keep up the good work, and here’s wishing you a very prosperous 2009!

    • Thank you very much for you kind comments and a very algae full 2009.

      It will take time as you said perhaps 3/4 years to determine the commercial viability of algae fuel. In the meantime we need R&D to focus on renewable energy technologies in general, especially algae and non food crop related energy sources.

      The US is by a long shot the leader in oil from algae, so lets hope your soon to be Obama Administration taps onto the possibility and encourages research and development by funding programs. Last year US$3 million were invested in algae companies with Sapphire Energy taking the biggest chunk of that 1/3 to be precise from the Gates Foundation.

      My particular concern (but not only) is developing countries, algae could be a way for them to either make revenue from producing algae oil and selling it to industrialised countries or to secure some energy themselves. Either way it would benefit them.

      By the way I am a fan of Oilgae too, and will be happy to read your industry report.

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