Aquaflow Bionomic harvests first wild algae

By Jerry W. Kram
Among the green hills and sandy beaches cradled in the southern seas, a potential biofuels breakthrough is coming close to fruition. In New Zealand, Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. Ltd. announced that commercial-scale wild algae harvesting is taking place at oxidation ponds in Marlborough, at the northern end of the nation's South Island. The ponds cover 100 acres and produce several tons of algae daily.

According to founding director Barrie Leay, an on-site biorefinery will convert the algae into what the company calls "biocrude," but he declined to describe the company's conversion technology, citing patent concerns. Aquaflow has investigated other possible harvest areas, including 1,000-acre oxidation ponds in the United States. "We believe this is an important step not just for our company, but for everybody," Leay said. "The processes we have worked through are evolutionary-not revolutionary-to get to this scale over the past two-and-a-half years. It's been a slow, gentle accumulation of knowledge to get us to this point."

Leay said the company's business model is to create a network of small biorefineries based around existing water treatment lagoons. He compared this with the existing biodiesel and ethanol industries, where feedstocks are shipped to a central facility. "The model we developed is quite different than anybody else's," he said. "We will not be looking at concentrating production in large oil refineries. We shall be using a distributed model in which we do the conversion of algae to oil on the site where the algae is housed. The closest analogy is that we are reversing the pattern of the old IBM mainframes (one central location), and going to laptop and Blackberry models (which go where users need them)."

In addition to algae production, the company has also researched feedlots, food-processing plants and dairy farms as other possible sources of organic material for feedstocks.. Aquaflow is also developing jet fuel derived from algae. Leay said the potential is "very significant," and his company is conducting serious investigative work. Boeing Co. has been involved with Aquaflow to develop the product.

Aquaflow is looking to expand its reach. It has partnered with Singapore-based Pure Power Asia to license and develop its technology in south Asia. Pure Power took a 19.9 percent share in Aquaflow in 2007. "[Pure Power] will be developing a significant part of the Asian market, probably in 2009," Leay said.