Dow and Algenol Partner for Algae-Based CO2-to-Ethanol Pilot Project

Dow and Algenol Partner for Algae-Based CO2-to-Ethanol Pilot Project

The Dow Chemical Co. will partner with a Florida-based company to turn carbon dioxide -- the most prevalent greenhouse gas -- into ethanol.

Dow and Naples-based Algenol Biofuels Inc. could produce 100,000 gallons of ethanol per year for use in making plastics. The algae-based biorefinery will be built on 24 acres at Dow’s site in Freeport, Texas, where it will use carbon dioxide produced at a nearby Dow manufacturing facility.

Algenol applied for $25 million in stimulus funds to cover half the costs of the Dow project, according to Algenol CEO Paul Woods. He expects the Department of Energy (DOE) to announce the awards between September and December. The funding will be divided into three phases: final plans and permitting, construction and operation.

"Our engineering work is done," Woods told and Monday, adding the companies would like to pursue "a timeline as accelerated as they would allow. We’re ready."
Algae testing facility -- Source: Algenol Biofuels Image courtesy of Algenol Biofuels
In addition to CO2, Algenol’s technology also requires salt water, sunlight and non-arable land to produce the ethanol. The company grows the algae in clear photobioreactors, where the algae secrete ethanol that can be easily captured. The process can produce 6,000 gallons of ethanol per acre of land, compared to corn-based ethanol, which produces 400 gallons per acre; Algenol’s ethanol’s carbon footprint is 80 percent smaller than that of petroleum.

Aside from supplying the CO2 from its manufacturing plant, Dow will develop advanced materials and specialty films for the bioreactors. The project would consume about 2 tons of CO2 daily, twice the minimum 1 ton-per-day threshold required under the DOE grant program. Woods estimates the pilot would operate for four to five years, or long enough to prove it can be scaled commercially. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology and Membrane Technology and Research Inc. will also contribute to the project.

Algenol, founded in 2006, has a similar but much larger project underway in Mexico with partner Sonora Fields S.A.P.I. de C.V., a subsidiary of Biofields. The $850 million project now in the permitting stage is a demonstration-scale project that will have the capacity to produce 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year.

By 2011, Algenol would like to have the permitting in place for another three algae-to-ethanol plants in the U.S., Woods said, split between Texas and Florida.

Algae image licensed by stock.xchng user gnmills .