Associated Press Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)—Iowa energy officials have approved more than $2 million for an effort to grow algae at a southwest Iowa ethanol plant and use the material to make fuel.
The 18-member Iowa Power Fund Board approved the $2,085,000 grant to assist in the commercialization of algae production technology.
The project by BioProcessAlgae LLC, is a joint effort by Omaha, Neb.-based Green Plains Renewable Energy and three other companies.
Scott Poor, corporate counsel for Green Plains, said the research and development grant will fund an algae production project at the company's Shenandoah, Iowa, ethanol plant.
"There is a great deal of synergy between ethanol production and algae production," he said. "The algae can utilize the carbon dioxide, water and heat from the ethanol plant, so some of the key inputs for algae production are already available."
Kevin Lynch, the chief executive of BioProcessAlgae, said the company will test its photobioreactor design in hopes of commercializing the algae production process.
He said the reactor — about 16-feet tall and 3-feet wide — is placed above the ethanol plant's fermenter. The enclosed system then captures the carbon dioxide, which when combined with incoming light forms the algae.
Lynch said the photobioreactor will produce up to 50 tons of algae a year from about 100 tons of carbon dioxide. About 25 tons of the algae will be in the form of oils that they hope can be converted into fuel such as biodiesel. The other 25 tons will be biomass-type products that can be used to make distillers grains, then fed to animals or transformed into more ethanol, he said.
He wouldn't speculate how much renewable fuel could be produced on a mass scale through algae production.
"You have got to be really careful when you talk about what the limits of any technology are," he said. "We have to tie it into an industry that exists already, which in this case is going to be ethanol, and then we have to see if we can make the algae ... cheaply and energy-efficiently, and then we have to see if we can process it into the usable fuel and a usable project."
If the project succeeds, Lynch said the state of Iowa could have the grant repaid, but it wouldn't get any ownership in the technology.
Brian Crowe, a senior program analyst with the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, which oversees the board, said it's important for Iowa, even during tough budget times, to invest in research and development projects that could create manufacturing jobs and next generation biofuels.
It helps Iowa "to maintain its position as a leader in renewable energy production and really taking the next steps that are necessary to put our state and our country on the path toward energy independence," Crowe said.
The other companies in the joint venture are filtration products manufacturer CLARCOR Inc., of Franklin, Tenn.; Bioprocess H2O LLC, a water filtration product and service company from Portsmouth, R.I.; and NTR PLC, an Irish energy-holding company.
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