World first wild algae bio-diesel test drive
December 15, 2006
World’s first wild algae bio-diesel successfully test driven in Wellington
The world’s first wild algae bio-diesel, produced in New Zealand by Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation, was successfully test driven in Wellington today by the Minister for Energy and Climate Change Issues, David Parker.
In front of a crowd of invited guests, media and members of the public, the Minister filled up a diesel-powered Land Rover with Aquaflow B5 blend bio-diesel and then drove the car around the forecourt of Parliament Buildings in Central Wellington. Green Party co-leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons was also on board.
Marlborough-based Aquaflow announced in May that it had produced the world’s first bio-diesel derived from wild micro-algae sourced from local sewage ponds.
“We believe we are the first company in the world to test drive a car powered by wild algae-based bio-diesel. This will come as a surprise to some international bio-diesel industry people who believe that this breakthrough is still years away,”, “ explains Aquaflow spokesperson Barrie Leay.
“A bunch of inventive Kiwis, and an Aussie, have developed this fuel in just over a year,” he comments. “This is a huge opportunity for New Zealand and a great credit to the team of people who saw the potential in this technology from day one.”
Bio-diesel based on algae could eventually become a sustainable, low cost, cleaner burning fuel alternative for New Zealand, powering family cars, trucks, buses and boats. It can also be used for other purposes such as heating or distributed electricity generation. There is now a global demand for billions of litres of bio-diesel per year.
Algae are also readily available and produced in huge volumes in nutrient rich waste streams such as at the settling ponds of Effluent Management Systems (EMS). It is a renewable indigenous resource ideally suited to the production of fuel and other useful by-products.
The breakthrough comes after technology start-up, Aquaflow, agreed to undertake a pilot with Marlborough District Council late last year to extract algae from the settling ponds of its EMS based in Blenheim.
By removing the main contaminant to use as a fuel feedstock, Aquaflow is also helping clean up the council’s water discharge - a process known as bio-remediation. Dairy farmers,, and many food processors too, can benefit in similar ways by applying the harvesting technology to their nutrient-rich waste streams.
Blended with conventional mineral diesel, bio-diesel can run vehicles without the need for vehicle modifications. Fuel derived from algae can also help meet the New Zealand Government B5 (5% blended) target, with the prospect of this increasing over time as bio-fuel production increases.
“Our next step is to increase capacity to produce one million litres of bio-diesel from the Marlborough sewerage ponds over the next year,” says Leay who toasted the company’s success appropriately today with a glass of CarboNZero ® sauvignon blanc from Marlborough’s Grove Mill winery.
Aquaflow will launch a prospectus pre-Christmas as the company has already attracted considerable interest from potential investors.
The test drive bio-diesel was used successfully in a static engine test at Massey University’s Wellington campus on Monday, December 11.
Background on Aquaflow and bio-diesel
Algae are the simplest plant organisms that convert sunlight and carbon dioxide in the air around us into stored energy through the well understood process of photosynthesis. Algae are rich in lipids and other combustible elements and ABC is developing technology that will allow these elements to be extracted in a cost effective way. The proposed process is the subject of a provisional patent.
Although algae are good at taking most of the nutrients out of sewage, too much algae can taint the water and make it smell. So, councils have to find a way of cleaning up the excess algae in their sewerage outflows and then either dispose of it or find alternative uses for it. And that’s where Aquaflow comes in.
Aquaflow was formed in October 2005 and its major shareholders are technology start-up expert Nick Gerritsen, and successful renewable energy developers Vicki Buck and Barrie Leay. The company’s technical team includes aquaculturist Bill Rucks, organic chemist Dr Ian Miller and process engineer Mark Kerr (Process Developments).
Today’s test drive signalled the completion of an R&D programme funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. ABC will be seeking further funding from FRST for the commercial scale-up of the technology next year.
Aquaflow also recently became the first New Zealand company to be invited to join the prestigious research hot-house, the Girvan Institute of Technology, in Silicon Valley, United States.
The Girvan Institute is a non-profit, public benefit corporation established to speed up the development of cutting edge technologies into useful products and services. Girvan’s affiliates and partners include global research labs, Fortune 1000 companies, small and medium high-tech companies and a number of private equity and venture capital firms.
Aquaflow’s technology will have application at every EMS systems in the country, as well as other nutrient rich farming and industrial processing waste stream in NZ. It also has global application.
The company has been inundated with enqguiries about the technology and is engaged with potential commercialisation parties in the US and elsewhere.
Unlike some bio-fuels which require crops to be specially grown and thereby compete for land use with food production, and use other scarce resources of fuel, chemicals and fertiliser, the source for algae-based bio-diesel already exists extensively and the process produces a sustainable net energy gain by capturing free solar energy from the sun.