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Austrian firm to develop Brazil’s first algae biomass plant

SAT and Brazil’s JB to build 2.5 acre plant in Pernambuco for cheap algal biomass production

The plant will produce algal biomass from natural and genetically engineered algal variants

An Austrian firm is to develop Brazil’s first algae biomass plant. Firm See Algae Technology (SAT) and JB, a leading Brazilian ethanol producer, are working together to develop the algal production plant in Pernambuco.

The plant represents an investment of around USD 9.81m and will occupy 2.5 acres. When complete, the facility will be producing algal biomass from both natural and genetically engineered algal variants.

SAT develops equipment that produces algae on an industrial scale for commercial applications. The company said the proposed plant is a “model of efficiency”. The algae produced will be used to create animal feedstock that isn’t soy-based. Algal lipids will also be used in developing biodiesel and other biochemicals.

SAT said: “Algae-based fuel is a neat idea, but it is expensive. But SAT has managed to bring prices down to a point where they are comparable to ethanol (USD 0.40 to USD 0.50 per quarter gallon, approximately).

“The numerous applications of algae are extremely promising, and this partnership could provide innovation for the future of the algae business,” the company said.

SAT said it has managed to bring down costs largely due to See Algae’s transference of production to custom 16 ft high reactors, from the earlier use of open-air ponds where environmental factors could “make mischief”. In a pond, only the top algal layer gets sunlight; the lower layers remain under-nourished. SAT said it has solved this problem with its ‘solar prism,’ a development that uses optical fibres to light up the reactors from the inside.

At the Pernambuco plant, these prisms will be connected to a neighbouring JB sugarcane mill’s chimneys. The carbon dioxide generated in the sugarcane processing will be recycled to feed the algae.

SAT and JB expect to produce around 317,000 gallons of biodiesel at the plant each year. Operations are set to begin in late 2013.