Algae-Based Ethanol Goes Commercial

Company to Sell E15, E85 in Florida

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Algae-based biofuels are considered to be among the lowest-carbon fuels of the future, and are gaining traction through the Renewable Fuel Standard. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Although the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard remains in question, a Florida-based company announced Monday it would be selling algae-based ethanol from a commercial demonstration plant in Fort Myers. It would be perhaps the most carbon-friendly fuel to reach the market so far, and the plant would be among the first to commercially produce ethanol from algae.

As is the case with most second-generation biofuels, algae biofuels companies have spent many years raising capital and working on a variety of technology platforms to make the fuel more price-competitive with gasoline.

Algae-based biofuels are considered to be among the lowest-carbon fuels of the future, and are gaining traction through the RFS.

Algenol Biotech LLC and Protec Fuel Management LLC announced in a news release an agreement to market and distribute ethanol from Algenol's Fort Myers commercial demonstration plant. The company plans to eventually produce 18 million gallons of commercial ethanol production set for launch in central Florida in 2016 and 2017.

Through the agreement, Protec Fuel will distribute and market the fuel for E15 and E85 at retail stations, as well as in fleet applications, according to the news release.

The partnership will enable Algenol to leverage Protec's established network of retail stores for the distribution of Algenol's E85, E15 and other advanced biofuels.

While the partnership will initially focus on Florida, the company said the agreement provides for expansion into a national partnership as Algenol develops projects in other markets.

"Algenol's Florida-based production facilities will provide both parties and their customers with a substantial margin advantage versus fuels shipped from out of state," according to the news release.

Algenol founder and Chief Executive Officer Paul Woods said in a statement the agreement is a good step toward growing the partnership nationally.

ALGENOL RFS PATHWAY

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved Algenol's Renewable Fuel Standard compliance pathway for algae-based ethanol in December 2014.

The organism the company used in the production process received approval by both the state of Florida and EPA in the same year. In June 2015, the company completed its 2-acre commercial demonstration module, funded in part by a $25 million U.S. Department of Energy Recovery Act grant. Right now, according to the company, Algenol is producing ethanol that meets national specifications and can be sold commercially as E85.

"Algenol has developed a patented technology using algae to produce the four most widely used fuels: ethanol, gasoline, jet and diesel fuel, all for about $1.30 a gallon," the company said in the news release.

"The company captures, recycles and utilizes CO2 that is used as a feedstock for the algae, an approach specifically identified as a qualifying technology for reducing carbon emissions in the recently established Clean Power Plan. Its pathway reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 69% per gallon compared to traditional gasoline, according to the official EPA pathway approval."

Algenol said a single 2,000-acre commercial Algenol module is the equivalent of planting 40 million trees or removing 36,000 cars from the road.

GREEN PLAINS

Algenol is not the only company delving into the world of algae-based biofuels and other products.

Omaha-based Green Plains Inc. announced in recent years a joint venture called BioProcess Algae LLC, with Clarcor, BioHoldings, Ltd.

BioProcess Algae LLC designs, builds and operates commercial-scale bioreactors that enable efficient conversion of light and carbon dioxide into microbial feedstock.

BioProcess Algae LLC is focused on developing fulfilling feedstock for animal feeds, nutritionals and transportation fuels. The company currently is running a demonstration plant at the Green Plains Inc. ethanol plant in Shenandoah, Iowa. Bioreactors installed in Shenandoah are tied directly into the plant's CO2 exhaust gas and have been operating continuously since October 2009.

According to the Green Plains June 2015 quarterly report, the BioProcess Algae joint venture is focused on developing technology to grow and harvest algae that consume carbon dioxide in commercial quantities.

"The joint venture is currently focused on verification of growth rates, energy balances, capital requirements and operating expenses of the technology, which are considered to be some of the key steps to commercialization," the company said in the quarterly report.

Jim Stark, vice president of investor and media relations for Green Plains Inc., said the company is continuing along a variety of paths with its algae joint venture.

"BioProcess Algae's path to commercialization has been down a different path," he told DTN. "BPA remains focused on growing and harvesting algae for proteins and omega 3s. BPA has been doing work around focusing our efforts on specific markets inside of these two areas. We are not at a point where we are ready to discuss or disclose anything additional about our efforts other than what we have said publicly in our SEC reports and through our earnings releases and conference calls."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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(AG/BAS)

Todd Neeley