Algenol is a privately held company in Florida that was founded in 2006. Its main goal is to grown algae from which ethanol can be directly harvested without the need to kill the organism. Such an approach reduces the overall energy input required to obtain a final product and helps to balance the amount of carbon produced from burning ethanol with the amount of carbon absorbed in producing it.
One of the key efficiency measures of biofuel production is the amount of fuel produced per acre. In order to avoid threatening the food supply while still meeting world energy demands, the amount of fuel that can be produced on an acre of land needs to reach more than 10,000 U.S. gallons. Right now, Algenol technology has allowed it to increase yield from 6,000 to 8,000 U.S. gallons per acre with the company predicting that 10,000 gallons is obtainable in the near future.
The technology that Algenol uses is termed “Direct to Ethanol” and is based on a relatively simple process. Algae, which are grown in saltwater, are provided carbon dioxide and sugar. They then use these raw materials to produce energy and, as a byproduct, ethanol. The ethanol is excreted by the algae and, because it evaporates at a lower temperature than water, rises to the top of specially designed containers. The containers then separate the ethanol and harvest it, all without the need to kill the algae. One of the major benefits of this process is that the technology can capture carbon dioxide that is expelled from industrial processes, thereby reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions.
The company maintains a “library” of algae strains that is the largest in the world. The library contains over 10,000 different strains or types of algae. Maintaining such a library allows Algenol to select algae that have the most desirable properties and investigate how those properties can be combined to increase ethanol yields and decrease nutrient requirements.
Algenol maintains facilities in both the United States and Europe. In Florida, the company’s main research and development centre cultures and analyses bacteria as well as the ethanol they produce. The Florida location is also the site of the companies pilot-scale Integrated Biorefinery, which is being built with a grant from the Department of Energy. Construction began in 2011 and will produce a refinery with the capacity to produce up to 100,000 U.S. gallons of ethanol per year starting in 2012.In Germany, Algenol maintains a subsidiary known as Algenol Biofuels Germany. The location focuses on the biology of algae. There is also a subsidiary in Switzerland that deal with finance, international licensing, and project development.