US trial for Aquaflow technology

Blenheim company Aquaflow which works on the production of bio-fuel from algae, and whose progress Hot Topic has reported on several times (follow the Aquaflow tag) has announced a new venture, this time in the US. They will be working with a Honeywell company at an industrial site in Hopewell, Virginia. The aim of the project, supported by a $1.5 million cooperative agreement with the US Department of Energy, is to capture CO2 from exhaust stacks and use it to enhance algae growth in nutrient wastewater from the manufacturing facility.

Aquaflow will contribute the knowledge and experience gained from its Blenheim site to grow and assess key characteristics of algae species indigenous to the local James River waterway. A series of monitored algae cultivation trials are planned.

Wild algae and waste water have been the basic elements in the Blenheim operation. Both are part of the Honeywell project. The third element, the enhancement of algae growth by the addition of extra CO2, hasn’t been part of the Aquaflow process but Director Nick Gerritson sees it as an extension of what Aquaflow can offer. He says the rule of thumb is that the addition of CO2 will tend to double the yield, though notes it also involves extra cost.

Sometimes the use of captured industrial CO2 to enhance algal growth is presented as if it’s a form of carbon sequestration, but since oil produced from the algae is eventually burned as a fuel it is rather a delay in emission than a sequestration. However it may be a useful delay. I have seen it plausibly (to my lay understanding, open to correction) claimed as an emission reduction compared with immediate release of the CO2 into the atmosphere. The carbon budget of such operations will no doubt be part of the assessment of demonstration projects such as the Hopewell one.

It’s a significant step for Aquaflow to be invited to be part of the Honeywell project. There are many uncertainties surrounding the technology of algal bio-fuel and it’s too soon to predict what its future might be.  But it’s obviously going to be seriously explored, in this case with the involvement of the US Department of Energy, and it’s good to see an innovative New Zealand company invited to help.

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