Algae could be better for chemicals than fuel - US Dow

21 July 2009 17:00  [Source: ICIS news]

MONTREAL, CANADA (ICIS news)--Using algae as a chemical feedstock may be less of a challenge for algae-producing companies than using it for fuel, a Dow Chemical official said on Tuesday.

Algae producers can turn low volumes into high margin opportunities in the chemical industry like they did in the health food industry, said Steve Gluck, scientific leader for Dow’s environmental technology centre, who presented at the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing conference in Montreal.

“It may make more sense to focus the algae industry effort towards chemical feedstocks before the fuel challenge is met given the specificity of the product and the scale of the opportunity,” he said.

ExxonMobil announced this month plans to spend $600m (€420m) on research to produce synthetic crude oil from algae.

Algae companies have been targeting the fuel industry as they advanced their research. Gluck noted some of the industry challenges - growth of algae to commodity scale; land and water requirements for breeding; nutrient requirements; water and wastewater management; extraction, isolation and purification of materials; feedstock composition and downstream utility.

Gluck said global dried microalgae biomass production in 2005 was 10,000 tons (9,072 tonnes), about 10% of what a single chemical manufacturing plant needs compared with 0.1% of a single oil refinery size.

“The algae industry has a long way to go but there are some good possibilities for new, large-scale opportunities,” he said.

He added: “Scaling from low volume production through operations for chemical feedstocks to fuel maybe the most achievable pathways.”

The three-day industrial biotech conference ends on Wednesday.

($1 = €0.70)

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