Feed ops could help commercialize algae

By Luke Geiver | December 20, 2010
Posted Dec. 28, 2010

Confined Animal Feeding Operations and algal biomass may have a unique link that could help move algae-to-energy developments closer to commercialization. Why? According to Thomas Byrne, president and CEO of Byrne & Company LLP, a renewable energy project developer, CAFOs offer a rich source of nutrients that can be used as a feedstock to grow algae. Most operations located in the northern climates are equipped with anaerobic digesters that use microbes to break down the organic forms of nitrogen and phosphorous into inorganic forms, Byrne said, all of which can be assimilated by various algal species.

"The methane produced by the anaerobic microbes is burned in a generator to produce an export of electricity and also waste heat that can be utilized to raise algae year-round," Byrne says. "Bioreactors to grow algal species are well suited to take both the inorganic forms of nitrogen and phosphorous from the digester, as well as the waste heat and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the generator, to produce ideal inputs for algal growth."

While the idea of co-locating an algal biomass growing facility with an established CAFO is a very real possibility, Byrne notes that the amount of algae grown for commercialization on a CAFO is limited by the availability of the CO2, nitrogen and phosphorus. "The limitations are both from what the CAFO produces, and what is needed from other operations of the CAFO." Some bioreactor technology, like that of Algaedyne's, which uses a process that controls photosynthesis by injecting only Photosynthetic Active Radiation into the depth of algae vessels, would make the process more feasible.

During the 2011 Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show, Jan. 10-12 in Seattle, Byrne will discuss the feasibility of a CAFO and algal biomass operation, and he'll do it with a real-life facility as a model. Based on a large dairy operation in Wisconsin, Byrne will highlight the drying technology, CO2 capture, heat exchange and actual conversion percentages to biomass achieved at the facility.

A University of Wisconsin alumnus, Margaret McCormick, will join Byrne during an algae-based panel, titled, Algal Research, Development and Commercialization in the Pacific Northwest. McCormick, now chief operating officer of a crop biotechnology company called Targeted Growth Inc. based out of Seattle, will discuss algae strain development for advanced biofuels.

To add to the algae discussion, Shulin Chen from Washington State University will present strategies and other technical approaches for algae development suited for the Northwest, and James Oyler will describe a new gasifier technology that creates renewable natural gas from wet biomass.

Click here to register for the 2011 Pacific West Biomass Conference & Trade Show and learn more about the CAFO and algal biomass facility model, along with the latest developments in algae strain research.
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