Solix Biofuels Inc., a startup company based in Boulder, is working with Colorado State University engineers to commercialize technology that can cheaply mass produce oil derived from algae and turn it into biodiesel.
Algae are the fastest growing organisms on the planet, and can produce 100 times more oil per acre than conventional soil-tilled crops that are now being grown for biofuel use – now they just have to create the technology to harness that potential.
Solix officials plan to commercialize the technology over the next two years. After ramping up to widespread production, the company expects to eventually compete commercially with the wholesale price of crude petroleum.
Bryan Willson, director of Colorado State’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, is pictured inspecting algae colonies. “This process harnesses photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide and energy captured from the sun into an economical petroleum substitute,” he says.
Solix officials estimate that widespread construction of its photo-bioreactor system could meet the demand for the U.S. consumption of diesel fuel – about 4 million barrels a day – by growing algae on less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. land area, which is otherwise unused land adjacent to power plants and ethanol plants. The plants produce excess carbon dioxide, which is necessary to turn algae into oil. In addition to producing biodiesel, the process would prevent a large portion of the greenhouse gases produced by coal-burning power plants from being expelled directly into the atmosphere.
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