One potential hurdle to the commercialization of algal fuels are how to harvest the algae. But one company believes that they already have this challenge figured out. Kent Bioenergy has been harvesting algae for years, as part of their aquaculture business that dates back the the 1970s. The original company needed to learn how to clean the water used for fish farms and the ticket to success was algae.
Fast forward to today and Kent Bioenergy, the latest iteration of the company, has developed a proprietary algae harvesting method over the past 15 years. “After watching algae being grown for the purposes of cleaning water for several years we began making observations on how algae grow, die and live,” explained Barry Toyonaga, Ph.D. who is the Chief Business Officer for the company.
“We began to notice certain trends, the ability of conditions to be manipulated on a large scale, and not employing very much energy or chemical additives, we learned how to manipulate the environment of the water so that the algae would settle. And algae don’t naturally like to settle because they need the sunlight near the surface of the water to survive. So we taught them literally, like a farmer in any kind of agriculture business teaches its crops what to do to make them more marketable, our fish farmers taught the algae what to do when we wanted it to be harvest time.”
The result was that the Kent researchers learned how to manipulate the algae to settle in the ponds and they discovered that if they placed a motorized conveyor belt at the bottom of where these algae were settling, the conveyor belt pulled these algae straight out of the water.
Toyonaga believes that his company has one of the lowest costs, if not the lowest cost method of harvesting at a scale compatible with commodity products. This is a key element if algal biofuels will be commercially viable.
To learn more about how to harvest algae, listen to my interview with Barry here. Barry Toyonaga interview
You can also view photos from my San Diego Algae Tour here.