Seambiotic Ltd. has been in the news a lot with the recent announcement that their subsidiary, Seambiotic USA, will be partnering with NASA to research algae as a source for jet fuels. However, what most people don’t know is that Seambiotic has had an algae pilot study running for the past couple years.
In fact, Seambiotic’s pilot study has been running for the past five years in Ashkelon, Israel. This R&D program is comprised of several open ponds totaling 1,000m2 at the Israel Electric Corporation power plant at Ashkelon. In addition to the CO2 in the ambient air, the pilot study’s open air ponds have some of the CO2 emissions from the power plant pumped directly into them.
Professor Ami Ben-Amotz, Chief Advisor at Seambiotic, explained how much CO2 their pilot program has been able to capture:
“Our operating unit is [an] experimental pilot plant of 1,000m2 pond area and as such is not aimed to capture [a] large quantity of CO2 but to study the potential of algal biotechnology to scrub CO2 out of coal burning flue gas. We grow the algae in low cost open ponds. The present experimental ratio of CO2 capture shows 5g CO2/ 1g algae (Dry Weight), or as equivalent to 100 g CO2 uptake/m2/day. On scale-up the ratios will be maintained to any area and location.”
While this may be a small amount of CO2 when you consider that some of the largest power plants can emit roughly 55,000 tons of CO2 a day, Seambiotic’s algae ponds have the ability to scale up to whatever size is needed without losing the ratios of CO2 uptake.
As with most pilot programs, one would expect to run into some problems. However, Ben-Amotz said that Seambiotic’s pilot study has had “surprisingly, no basic problems” over the past several years of operation. In fact, the pilot study has run so well that when asked whether or not he felt the study had been a success, Ben-Amotz answered with an emphatic “YES”.
Seambiotic also feels that the pilot study results have shown that “any site and any part of the globe are suitable” for their growth technology. They have also developed several marketable uses in addition to a biofuel source for the algae they have grown such as animal feed, food for human consumption, and human health supplements.
One of the hurdles remaining for large scale algae production is creating an economically feasible growth system. The results from the Ashkelon study have shown that Seambiotic’s growth model is economically feasible for “a basket of valuable products” like those mentioned above. With the partnership between Seambiotic USA and NASA, they expect to increase the economic feasibility of their algae growth system.
“We expect that the results of the cooperation with NASA will increase algal productivity (per area) to make algal bio-fuel significantly feasible,” Ben-Amotz said.
The success of Seambiotic’s pilot study is very important for the algae biofuel field as a whole. This study is one of the longest running studies that couples CO2 emissions with algae production. The apparent success and future expansion of Seambiotic through its partnership with NASA is a great signal to other companies looking to enter the algae biofuel fray. Perhaps it was Seambiotic’s success that gave Exxon Mobil the final push to invest $600 million in algae research.