Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Let 10,000 Algaes Bloom

Microscopic view of green algae
I came close to writing about Ever Cat Fuels a few months ago, but it sounded too preliminary. Well, yesterday the company unveiled biodiesel production at its new plant in Isanti, Minn., and I can't wait any longer.

According to Neal St. Anthony's column in today's Star Tribune, the company's patented process can turn a lot of relatively useless materials into biodiesel -- waste oil from food processing or cooking, waste products from ethanol production, even algae and stinkweed. The people behind Ever Cat call their process "Mcgyan," a combination of the names of three of its inventors.

Potential for Small Scale Use

St. Anthony quoted Greg Mowry, a professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas, as saying, "The Mcgyan technology uses no water and generates no waste." Mowry's students have already "developed small, mobile plants that can be mounted on a truck bed to produce fuel to power a Minnesota farm or an African village."

Mowry goes on to say, "My wife's family farm uses up to 4,000 gallons of diesel a year to run the trucks and equipment. We have a start-up company that, I think, can produce these [small reactors] for under $10,000 apiece."

Imagine a farm that can generate its own carbon-neutral fuel. If a reactor costs $10,000, and a farm uses 4,000 gallons of fuel a year, that means the cost of the reactor could be recouped in just a year, if the farm would have otherwise been paying $2.50 a gallon. (Assuming the farmers could make the fuel from a source that would have otherwise gone to waste.)

Large-Scale Use, Too

Unlike corn- or soy-based ethanol, "the Mcgyan process yields five units of energy for every one unit of energy used to produce it," according to one of its creators.

Ever Cat is in touch with hundreds of farm co-ops, colleges and sewage-treatment plants who want to get rid of tons of restaurant grease and other accumulated fats that currently are buried, burned, or fed to animals.

The company also complements existing ethanol plants by taking their leftover distillers grain, removing the oil from it, and generating a million gallons of biodiesel from the waste created by producing 25 million gallons of ethanol. The biodiesel sells at a price 10 times the price commanded by distillers grain, which would otherwise be sold as animal feed. And the post-Mcyan byproducts are still salable as animal feed.

And Then There's the 10,000 Algae Blooms

St. Anthony writes, "Algae, particularly high-yield strains, has the potential to yield the equivalent of several thousand gallons of oil per acre, compared with 20 to 100 gallons per acre from corn, soybeans and sunflowers, according to government researchers."

It remains to be seen how anyone could harvest algae and get it to a processing plant, but it's sure an interesting idea! Remember that algae bloom in the Gulf of Mexico that's the size of New Jersey? Maybe there's a way to put it to use.

Ever Cat hopes to license its patented process to fuel producers. Now it's time to see if there are companies that are serious about scaling this process up to create sustainable fuels for the masses, while at the same time allowing for a small-scale version that could decentralize production for farmers and other large consumers of fuel.

You can see some video of the Ever Cat plant on WCCO TV.

1 comment:

Ms Sparrow said...

I saw that article in the paper and never read it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. This sounds almost too good to be true.