Growing green

Locally grown: The ins and outs of algae farming

Getting oil from algae is almost as simple as “getting juice from an orange.” When algae is pressed, the organism secrets oil that can then be converted into a variety of products ranging from green diesel to foodstocks. However, growing algae is a more difficult process.

Though microalgae grows naturally atop ponds all over the world, not all of algae’s 65,000 known species produce large amounts of oil. In addition, bad weather, bacteria and contamination can wipe out the harvest.

A closed loop system, like Solix’s Coyote Gulch facility works to produce algae faster and more efficiently by maximizing solar exposure and isolating the crop for infection and swings in temperature. Water laden with carbon dioxide and nutrients is pumped through the photo-bioreactors, which enables the organisms to grow as much as 30 times faster than in nature. The systems also allow for greater surface level exposure to sunlight compared with open-pond systems.

At Coyote Gulch, Solix BioSystems is taking the greenest possible path. The demonstration facility utilizes wastewater and carbon dioxide generated during coal-bed methane production to feed the fuel. The combination is working. Since 2009, Coyote Gulch has produced tens of thousands of gallons of algae oil and helped Solix perfect a process that is now available on the open market.

– Will Sands