Algae biofuels developer begins pilot operation

By Lisa Gibson
LiveFuels Inc., a developer of renewable algae-based biofuels, will begin pilot operations at its test facility in Brownsville, Texas, using its natural process to optimize algal productivity and increase rates of conversion of biomass to renewable oils.

The process uses biological and environmental conditions instead of machinery. The company grows a mix of native algae species in 45 acres of open saltwater ponds, according to LiveFuels. To harvest the algae, the company uses "algae grazers" such as filter-feeding fish species and other aquatic herbivores. The fish, including those from the Tilapia or sardine families, collect and clean the algae through structures in their mouths, according to the company. They swallow it and the algae is digested and concentrated in the fish's flesh. To extract the oil, the fish are cooked and pressure is applied, resulting in omega-3 fatty acids and other oils used as feedstocks for renewable fuels. The meat can be sold as animal feed or to the consumer market if it meets food-grade standards, and the bones can be used in agricultural fertilizers.

The natural process eliminates the task of having to control algae species, oxygen concentration and other processes, according to Dave Jones, chief operating officer. In addition, it's much easier to collect fish out of the ponds than the single-celled algae. LiveFuels is focused on letting nature do what it does best, according to Jones. The approach only facilitates a useful natural process.

LiveFuels has filed for 10 patents in the U.S. for its process, according to the company. The results of the pilot project will be used to commercialize the process along the coast of Louisiana. The commercial facilities will be designed to harness flows of agricultural pollution from the Mississippi River that can be used as nutrients for generating algal blooms. By removing those nutrients, LiveFuels' systems also mitigate the impacts of agricultural pollution in the open ocean.

The company has other pilot facilities in the U.S., and has raised $10 million in private funding for its research.