OriginOil extraction process reaches highest efficiency standard

By Lisa Gibson
Posted October 29, 2009, at 9:30 a.m. CST

Los Angeles-based OriginOil Inc. has achieved 97 percent efficiency of algal oil extraction from its low-energy Single Step Extraction process.

Typical extraction efficiency from algae cells is 94 percent to 97 percent. "Ninety-seven percent efficiency is outstanding," said OriginOil chief scientist Vikram Pattarkine. "This is about as good as it gets." Efficiency rates are determined by how much lipid is in the biomass to start with and how much is extracted. If it were equated to soybean extraction, he said, it would mean about 29 milliliters of oil would be extracted from a seed containing 30 milliliters. OriginOil has optimized its Single Step Extraction process in a long-running collaboration with an advanced research lab at California State University.

Single Step Extraction, unlike other algae extraction processes, uses biomass in slurry form instead of dried biomass. Moisture content in algae is 99.9 percent, according to Pattarkine, making drying an energy-intensive process. "It takes a huge amount of energy to extract all that water," he said. When extracting oils to produce nutrients needed in products such as baby formula, high-energy consumption is not so much a problem, as the product has a higher price than biofuel, he explained. "We would like to produce the crude used in these products very cheaply," he said.

Algae grow suspended in water and to prepare for harvest, the algae culture must be concentrated and oil extracted from each cell. Then the oil, water and biomass must all be separated for processing. Single Step Extraction does all this in one step, according to OriginOil.

The system is part of a three-part Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between OriginOil and the U.S. DOE's Idaho National Laboratory that seeks to develop a process model for the commercial production of algae for biofuels. Phase 1 was completed at the beginning of October.

OriginOil is working in partnership with Desmet Ballestra, a global leader in oil and fats technologies, to move from bench scale to pilot scale. The company designs and builds vegetable oil plants, among other products, and also has constructed about 80 biodiesel plants, Pattarkine said. "All their companies are hurting for feedstock," he said. "They have these refineries and nothing to refine." Corn oil and soybean feedstocks are in short supply, he added. "Desmet Ballestra believes that algae is the answer." The companies are constructing a pilot plant at OriginOil's facility in California that should be operational by the middle of next year, Pattarkine said.

OriginOil hopes Single Step Extraction will be operating at commercial scale by the end of next year, Pattarkine said. "All these milestones help achieve that goal."