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In the latest in a series about innovation amid economic turmoil, Tom Bearden reports on efforts to convert algae into clean fuel.
Next tonight: turning lowly algae into fuel, another in a series of stories about how people are innovating to move the economy forward.
"NewsHour" correspondent Tom Bearden has our Science Unit report.
DAVE DISS, Solix Biofuels:
This is what the final product looks after it's spun down.
Dave Diss gets a little annoyed when people call his algae pond scum. He and the company he works for think it's the next big thing in alternative fuels. Diss manages the Coyote Gulch Demonstration Project for the Solix Biofuels Company out in the Southern Colorado Desert.
It's essentially a series of large water-filled metal tanks that hold 120-foot-long plastic bags full of water and algae, a process the company hopes can be massively scaled up to produce economically competitive biodiesel.
Algae is injected into the bags. This one here was just injected yesterday. And you see how it's a lighter color…
… than this darker one? And, as it grows — and it takes from five to 10 days for it to reach maturity to where it can be harvested — then we will extract it out of the bags and move it into the harvest facility, and spin out the water, and then you have a marketable lipid to extract the oil from the algae.
Solix is one of about 200 companies trying to find a way to make biofuels out of algae. The company began testing the production process three-and-a-half years ago at Colorado State University, using this small-scale tank to try out various ways to grow algae.
BRYAN WILLSON, Solix Biofuels:
For this to go to scale, we have to be able to do this at much, much lower cost.
Solix co-founder and mechanical engineering professor Bryan Willson says the tests showed that a closed system using plastic bags was the way to go.
So, by growing them in these closed panels, we can control their environment and just grow those very specific species.
It also gives us the ability to tailor the environment, because we — under normal growth conditions, algae don't produce oils. To get significant oil content, we have to impose certain biological stress conditions to change their metabolism. And that's much easier to do in a closed system.
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