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Scale Up

Touchstone Steps up Algae Fuel Project in Ohio

July 29, 2012

Touchstone’s commercial greenhouse site in Wooster, OH, for DOE carbon capture and reuse project

Touchstone’s commercial greenhouse site in Wooster, OH, for DOE carbon capture and reuse project

Touchstone Research Laboratory, of Triadelphia, WV is scaling up its Department of Energy (DOE)-funded project to produce fuels and other high-value, bio-based products from algae. The laboratory is working with DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to bring the project to fruition at the host site of Cedar Lane Farms (CLF), a commercial greenhouse and nursery with two production facilities on a 13-acre parcel in Wooster, OH.

Other project partners include Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research Development Center (OARDC) of Wooster, OH; GZA GeoEnvironmental of Cincinnati, OH; and OpenAlgae, LLC of Austin, TX.

Touchstone won an initial award from DOE in 2009 when the agency funded projects from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to determine the feasibility of capturing carbon dioxidefrom industrial sources (CLF uses a 2.8 megawatt coal-fired combustor at one of its production plants) for storage or beneficial use, such as conversion to chemicals, plastics, fuels, and building materials. Based upon satisfactory performance in Phase 1, in 2010 Touchstone received a follow-on Phase 2 award to further demonstrate conversion of carbon dioxide emissions into useful products while also reducing emissions and mitigating climate change. Touchstone’s DOE grant is comprised of nearly $6.8 million of ARRA funds and is matched by outside funding of almost $1.7 million.

Algae raceway pond at Cedar Lane Farms

Algae raceway pond at Cedar Lane Farms. – K.D. Chamberlain image, Ohio State University, OARDC

Touchstone has completed the design, engineering, and construction of the pilot-scale system, which includes four, 30,000-gallon raceway ponds. Mass and energy balances of the integrated CO2 capture and re-use process have been completed, along with a detailed Phase II project budget. Additionally, the team produced a detailed Greenhouse Gas Lifecycle Analysis and the project Environmental Information Volume (EIV).

During Phase 2, Touchstone will – over a two-year period – operate a half-acre open pond pilot system using phase change material (PCM) technology and emissions from the existing, adjacent, coal-fired source; and will gather data (PCM performance, CO2 injection rates, water quality, algae growth, etc.) to substantiate future commercialization efforts. CFL will provide operational labor to Touchstone for the new system.

A technology developed by Touchstone exclusively for algae systems, PCM covers a majority of the pond surface to regulate daily temperature, control the infiltration of invasive species, and reduce water evaporation losses. The PCM absorbs infrared solar radiation during the day as latent heat, and releases it to the water at night when temperatures drop.

Touchstone is testing its integrated system in two indoor and two outdoor algae-producing ponds at the nursery. For each pair, one pond is being covered by the PCM while the other pond has no protection and serves as the control. The four-pond system has an annual production capacity of approximately 2,000 gallons of oil to be turned into fuel.

The nursery uses an advanced coal-burning system from a previous DOE effort to heat its greenhouses. For the algae project, carbon dioxide generated by that system is being pumped into the ponds, keeping flue gas carbon dioxide from being released into the environment, while providing the algae with nutrient.

Touchstone’s Program Director Phil Lane welcomes open house audience.

Touchstone’s Program Director Phil Lane welcomes open house audience.

Touchstone’s algae-production technology is also combined with OARDC’s anaerobic digestion procedure of creating biogas (methane) from organic materials, such as manure and food-processing waste inside a biodigester. According to Dr. Philip Lane, Touchstone’s Director of Business Development and the Program Manager for this project, organic waste and the residual algae biomass are combined and the mixture is converted to biogas; turning undesirable materials into further renewable energy.

OARDC’s Professor Yebo Li found that the nutrient-rich liquid effluent remaining after a biodigester finishes turning waste into methane can be recovered and recycled back into the ponds to help grow the algae. He is currently growing algae in his lab using the liquid effluent, perfecting a formula that will be tested in the field.

The project will begin harvesting the algae and extracting lipids for conversion into biofuels using an on-site processing unit designed and built by OpenAlgae. High-density inoculants of algae strains from Touchstone photobioreactors will be cultured in preparation for introduction to the test ponds.  Pilot-scale process development and testing of an anaerobic digestion process to convert residual algae lipids to biofuels will be performed by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC).

Dr. Lane said that Touchstone’s operation of the pilot plant will determine the operating costs and yields from the biomass and fuel. Touchstone hopes the pilot plant will attract investors to license the technology to others in the algae industry with the prospect that the production process will be adopted to provide energy savings and to reduce water usage.

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