REG's technology can produce biodiesel from algae

By Jerry W. Kram | August 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted August 20, 2008 at 11:02 a.m. CST

Renewable Energy Group of Ames, Iowa, has announced it has technology capable of producing biodiesel from algae oil. The company said it is working with several groups to commercialize algae production, but it is not producing algae itself.

REG has adapted it multi-feedstock technology to refine oil from a variety of algae strains and produce biodiesel exceeding ASTM standards. The results indicate the process can be commercialized when sufficient quantities of algae oil become available. At this time, REG is working with algae companies to develop their process. "We have worked with a variety of algae companies that we think will become producers," said Daniel Oh, chief operating officer of REG. "We can work with algae companies who are trying to define what they are trying to do from a strain selection perspective to the smartest way to scale up to a commercial scale."

Oh said REG is optimistic that commercial quantities of industrial algae oil will be available within three to five years. However, the industry will have to go through a few more cycles of development before that can happen. "It is clear to use that algae is a good source for biodiesel feedstock. We think it is just an issue of commercialization at this point," he said.

In the process, crude algae oil is cleaned and refined using REG's pretreatment technology. It is then converted to biodiesel using a system similar to current commercial-scale biodiesel production. "We can take this product from the crude oil all the way through the pretreatment and refining process through production and all the ASTM specifications � all in-house," said Glen Meier, REG's research and development manager. "We are kind of a one-stop shop. Once you can make oil, we can take it all the way to the point of telling you the finished product quality and working back to adjust the strain or species (of algae) to make a better end product."

Algae oil has distinct processing challenges, but the company said it has produced algae biodiesel which exceeds ASTM D6751 and EN 14214 quality specifications. "You have to have really broad experience across all feedstocks to process algae oil," Oh said. "It requires (knowledge of) everything from crude oil refining capability to the worst impurities in animal fat. I would call it a challenging feedstock."

"There are vast differences from producer to producer," Meier added. "You have to be flexible enough in your system to be handling these. It's not like soybean or other oils where this load will look like the last load. These can be quite different from load to load."

REG is looking for additional partners for commercial-scale production of algae biodiesel. The company wants to produce volumes of biodiesel from algae comparable to other vegetable and animal feedstocks now in use. "The potential of algae oil is huge, but you've got to be ready to commercialize the product" Oh said. "Any algae company is going to need someone like REG that has the ability to get the product out and get market acceptance."

REG utilizes a multi-feedstock approach to biodiesel production. Its current technology for algae biodiesel follows the same path to development as other major feedstocks being used today as alternatives to soybean oil, such as white grease and canola oil, Meier said. "Our approach means you will not need a plant specifically dedicated to running purely on algae oil," he said. "You can start using it as it becomes available, blending it with other feedstocks that we already use."
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