ILA: Algae fuel plans start to gel Down Under

Berlin
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Algae need not be mere pond life - and it might just be the answer to airline calls for a green alternative to kerosene.

AlgaeTec is at the show nine months after signing a memorandum of understanding with German carrier Lufthansa. The accord triggered joint evaluation of the potential for aviation biofuel to be developed from clear algae oil produced by the Australia-based company.

For airlines, algae is advantageous as a feedstock because it is not used in food production and so meets the strict requirement of sustainability - the "holy grail", in the phrase of AlgaeTec's Perth-based executive chairman Roger Stroud.

AlgaeTec deploys a proprietary technology based on enclosed steel photobioreactors - retrofitted 40ft (12m) shipping containers which are linked to solar light capture arrays.

The requirement for land space is commonly seen as a big obstacle to scale production of algae. But AlgaeTec says its process requires only 515ha (1,270 acres) to produce 100,000t of oil per year, where the comparative figure is 5,200ha for pond algae, 19,600ha for palm oil, 53,000ha for jatropha, 100,000ha for canola, 250,000ha for soy, 360,000ha for cotton, and a whopping 715,000ha for corn. And, unlike pond algae, AlgaeTec's oil does not smell, says Stroud.

In August, AlgaeTec opened an algae-to-biofuels facility dubbed Shoalhaven One about 140km (87 miles) south of Sydney. This is now in "full commissioning mode", says Stroud, and a "work-up procedure" is being pursued.

The company has an R&D centre in Atlanta, Georgia, and partnerships with universities in Texas and in Wollongong, Australia. Further collaborations are intended as a means of securing algae supply and AlgaeTec is taking a global view - with Brazil and Europe on the radar.

A veteran of the science and finance sectors, Stroud says that, with funding, algae-based fuels could be supplied in "meaningful" volumes within two-and-a-half years, and at "very significant" levels by 2020.

"We've passed the crawl stage," he says. "Now, we're on our feet."