Shell, Hawaii company team to grow algae for biofuel

By Jessica Ebert | January 17, 2008
Royal Dutch Shell and Hawaii-based HR Biopetroleum Inc., a developer of large-scale microalgae production technology, recently announced the formation of a joint venture company that will develop an algae-to-biofuels project. The company, called Cellana, will build a pilot-scale facility in Hawaii to grow native, non-modified strains of Hawaiian algae or other varieties approved by the state's Department of Agriculture in open-air ponds using proprietary technology.

HR Biopetroleum was founded in 2004 by a group of marine scientists who wanted to reenergize research on the cultivation of algae for biodiesel production. The research originally carried out in the 1980s and 1990s stagnated because of cost and contamination from strains of wild algae. HR Biopetroleum's technology overcomes these challenges by employing low-cost pond cultivation with photobioreactors that protect the cultivation of a monoculture of algae. In addition, frequent harvesting and cleaning of the ponds prevents contamination, and automated control systems maintain pH and nutrient levels.

"HR Biopetroleum's proven technology provides a solid platform for commercial development and potential deployment worldwide," said HR Biopetroleum Chief Science Officer Mark Huntley. "Shell's expertise and commitment to next-generation biofuels complements our own strengths and makes this a truly collaborative partnership."

The new demonstration facility will be built on Hawaii's Kona coast near existing commercial algae farms primarily serving the pharmaceutical and nutrition industries. In addition, scientists from the University of Hawaii, the University of Southern Mississippi and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia will conduct research to screen for natural species of microalgae that produce the highest yields and the most vegetable oil.

"Algae have great potential as a sustainable feedstock for production of diesel-type fuels with a very small [carbon dioxide] footprint," said Graeme Sweeney, executive vice president of future fuels and carbon dioxide at Shell. "This demonstration will be an important test of the technology and, critically, of commercial viability."
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