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:
- 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.
- Light distribution needs to be evenly distributed and cost-effective.
- 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.
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;
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