LiveFuels, Inc., a developer of renewable algae-based biofuels, announced the start of pilot operations that will use fish to filter and process algae into oil, instead of complex mechanical and chemical processes.
While many algae-to-biofuels companies grow monocultures of algae-sometimes genetically modified strains-within expensive enclosures, LiveFuels grows a mix of native algae species in low-cost, open-water systems. To harvest the algae, LiveFuels uses "algae grazers," such as filter-feeding fish species and a variety of other aquatic herbivores, in place of expensive and energy-intensive mechanical equipment. Live Fuels says these species can easily be processed into renewable oils and many other valuable co-products.
The company's test facility in Brownsville, TX, which consists of 45 acres of open saltwater ponds, will be used for research on optimizing algal productivity and increasing the rates of conversion of biomass into renewable oils.
"Our new Brownsville facility allows us to explore a system-level solution for producing algal biofuels," said LiveFuels CEO Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones. "By harnessing the power of natural systems, we hope to achieve what has eluded the biofuels community for decades--cost effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability."
To date, LiveFuels has filed ten U.S. patents for its proprietary approach to growing and harvesting algal biomass.
"Current approaches to generating algal-biofuels are resource intensive and face fundamental science and engineering hurdles," said David Kingsbury, former chief program officer for the Science Program of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and chairman of the LiveFuels scientific advisory board. "LiveFuels' approach is ingenious in its simplicity. By turning natural food chains into productive systems, LiveFuels eliminates many of the costs and risks plaguing other approaches to using algae for biofuels."
At the Brownsville facility, LiveFuels will conduct research on optimizing the productivity of natural aquatic ecosystems through biological and environmental conditions. The results will be used for an expansion to full-scale commercial operations along the coast of Louisiana, the company said. The commercial facilities will be designed to harness flows of agricultural pollution from the Mississippi River that can be used as nutrients for generating algal blooms. By removing these nutrients from river flows, LiveFuels' systems also mitigate the impacts of agricultural pollution in the open ocean.
LiveFuels was founded in 2006 to develop the most efficient and scalable algae-based biofuel process. After a year of strategic planning with DOE national labs NREL and Sandia, LiveFuels raised $10M in private financing.