Algae technology company OriginOil to participate in pilot project as Mexico kick-starts jet biofuels industry
Thu 17 Feb 2011 – US-based algae technology company OriginOil is to participate in a pilot scale algae project to be funded by the Mexican government as part of an initial substantial investment in large-scale jet fuels production in the country. The project is to be sited in Ensenada, Baja California, situated on the north-west Pacific coast of Mexico and considered an ideal environment for algae growth with abundant sunlight and access to seawater. Mexico has ambitions as a major producer of transport biofuels, not just to satisfy its own domestic needs but also at the huge US market across the border. Mexico’s largest airport operator Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares (ASA), responsible also for most of the jet fuel management in the country, is aiding in the development of a jet biofuels industry.
The project will be led by locally-based Genesis Ventures, which has received a first grant from the economy ministry through The National Council for Science and Technology.
Genesis will develop the Ensenada site, which will be operated by the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education, as a model for numerous additional projects to be co-located with large sources of CO2 required in the algae production process. The facility claims to offer a team of world-class researchers, sophisticated laboratory equipment and bench-scale algae cultivation infrastructure. Genesis will also invite algae researchers from the University of Baja California to collaborate in the project.
OriginOil’s technology focuses on the algae extraction process which can be embedded in algae production systems. The company says extraction is a critical bottleneck in commercial algae production. At the time of harvest, algae live in a great volume of water. Conventional extraction, adequate for specialty products such as pharmaceuticals, is far too energy-intensive for large-scale uses such as fuels and so a scalable solution is vital to the future of the fast-growing algae industry, says OriginOil. Its technology aims at overcoming the major challenges of de-watering and oil extraction.
“We are excited to support Mexico’s ‘Manhattan project’ to produce 1% of the nation’s jet fuel from algae in less than five years,” said OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry. “By the end of this decade, the project must produce nearly twenty times that amount, propelling Mexico to the front rank of biofuel producing nations.”
Although Mexico’s sustainable jet biofuel strategy encompasses algae, it is also looking at additional biomass sources such as jatropha, salicornia and castor seed. ASA is coordinating efforts with other organisations through the country’s Inter-Agency Biofuel Development Commission, which was set up to overview and coordinate all government efforts related to biofuel production, storage, transportation, distribution, commercialisation and final use. ASA has set up collaboration agreements with state governments as well as the private sector, including Boeing and Honeywell’s UOP.
In order to reach targets of 1% of all jet fuels to come from alternative sources by 2015 and 15% by 2020, it has been established that four new refineries producing 400 million litres of fuel annually will need to be built in the country over the next 10 years.