Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo Grant For a Low-cost, Waste-Grown Algae Biofuel Feedstock Production Project
Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo will demonstrate a new technology that turns oil-rich algae into biofuel while also treating wastewater. The University's system, called Reclamation of Nutrients, Energy, and Water (RNEW™), will be installed at the City of San Luis Obispo's water reclamation facility.
The system is the pilot development stage of new techniques of raising and cultivating algae that have been refined in the lab. Nine 30-square meter raceway ponds will be constructed at the wastewater treatment plant. Algae will be grown in the ponds using nutrients from the waste, supplemented with carbon dioxide from cylinders. The CO2 greatly increases the growth of algae, which maximizes the production of lipids, or oils, and improves the quality of the wastewater as the plants assimilate nitrogen and phosphorous. The oil-rich algae will be separated from the water using a simple, low-cost settling process that requires no chemicals.
The RNEW™ process uses only untreated wastewater, not fresh water, and a full-scale system could be powered by renewable energy from an anaerobic digester using algae biomass as feedstock. The system already has proven efficient enough to create 1,200 gallons of biofuel a year from each acre of algae, and work to develop new strains of algae should increase productivity even more.
The City of Fresno has already offered its wastewater facility as the site for scaling up the RNEW™ technology.
$442,000 from the project's participants.
Dr. Tryg Lundquist of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has been directing research on algae cultivation, wastewater reclamation, and algae biofuels feasibility since 2006. He is a registered civil engineer in California.
Dr. John Benemann of MicroBio Engineering, Inc. is a biochemist and consultant who has been involved in algae biofuels and related research. He will participate in the design, assembly, and start-up of the pilot facility, and help perform the lifecycle analysis.
The RNEW™ project is supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and California's State Water Resources Control Board. Walnut Creek-based MicroBio Engineering, Inc., will also participate in the design and startup of this pilot facility.
The process has already achieved lipid production levels equivalent to 1,200 gallons per acre each year, and the development of new strains of algae should lead to even higher production.
The RNEW™ process is entirely dependent on untreated wastewater and does not require fresh water. Power for the project will come from a co-generation powerplant fueled by biomethane from an anaerobic digester that uses spent algal biomass as feedstock.
According to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a 400-hectare system would have a negative greenhouse gas contribution, which means it would absorb carbon dioxide. Their analysis shows that a 400-hectare system would require 52 full-time operators.
The technology can be replicated at wastewater treatment facilities throughout California, and could also work with animal waste and some industrial water applications.
Grant Agreement Number: ARV-10-027