Making Natural Gas Out of Algae

John Davis

pnnlScientists working for the federal government have found another way to turn algae into energy. The green pond scum has been found as a good source for biodiesel. Now, algae can be turned into natural gas.

This press release from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) says the feds have transferred the technology to the marketplace under a license between Genifuel Corporation and Battelle:

The method, called catalytic hydrothermal gasification, creates natural gas out of algae – more quickly, more efficiently and at higher yields than other biofuel processes. Genifuel expects the process also requires less capital investment. The license agreement moves this technology for renewable energy production a step closer to commercial reality. Battelle operates PNNL for DOE.

“Algae and other aquatic biomass hold significant promise for our country’s ability to produce renewable energy domestically,” said Genifuel President Jim Oyler. “At Genifuel we have developed efficient growth and harvesting techniques for the aquatic biomass. With this gasification process, we can convert the biomass to a clean fuel that is almost completely carbon-neutral.”

He calls the PNNL process an “elegant system,” noting that more than 99 percent of the biomass is gasified to produce renewable natural gas and byproducts such as carbon dioxide which can be recycled and reused in the algae growth ponds.

PNNL originally developed the catalytic gasification process to clean up industrial and food processing waste as an alternative to incineration. Over the past 10 years, PNNL scientists advanced the technology to include a more stable catalyst that enables it to also convert wet biomass, such as algae. PNNL has tested the gasifier with terrestrial plants, kelp and water hyacinths. It works especially well for aquatic biomass such as algae, because the feedstock doesn’t require drying before fuel production.

Officials say that electricity made from the natural gas will help utilities meet renewable fuels standards. In addition, the natural gas produced from the process can be shipped through existing pipelines and used in conventional natural-gas turbine generators.