The ability of certain algae to produce hydrocarbon oil has been known since the end of the XIXth century. Circa 1895, Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre tried to industrialize the production of algae oil. In the meantime, Rudolf Diesel developed the motor that bears his name, originally meant to run on vegetable oil.
However, research in this field began in earnest with the acknowledgment of the necessity to fight against global warming, the need to reduce dependence on fossil energy, and concerns over conventional biofuel feedstock (which need large farmland) as the unique alternative to fossil fuel.
There are currently about 400 players worldwide taking part in the development of the ”algae fuel” industry. Big companies are increasingly interested in this new field. All major oil companies (with the notable exception of Total) are investing in algae.
The equation that allows algae to produce “green fuel” is simple and is now well recognized:
“CO2 + nutrients + sun + algae = algae lipids + biomass”
Despite this simplicity, the exploitation of this natural process remains expensive. One of the biggest obstacles lies in conventional extraction methods (pressing or centrifugation), which do not achieve optimum efficiency due to high energy demands.
Ennesys, a joint venture between OriginOil (www.originoil.com) and PJC (www.pacificjunction.com), aims at removing these hurdles to make this new field more economically attractive. Thus, Ennesys has developed an innovative process that enables the production of “algae fuels” at a competitive prices (i.e. production cost for a barrel of algal oil is reduced to $100, corresponding to almost a Brent barrel price.