Washington, DC - A novel method to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from flue gas and produce biofuels has been formally launched in the second phase of a Department of Energy (DOE) project at a nursery in Ohio. Successful application of the process could eventually help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a source of liquid biofuels and biogas, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.

Touchstone Research Laboratory in Triadelphia, W.Va., successfully inoculated four biomass production ponds with algae at Cedar Lane Farms in Wooster, Ohio, and is now investigating the effectiveness of an innovative phase change material to enhance open pond algae production.

An event celebrating the formal launch of the bioconversion pilot plant was hosted by Touchstone at Cedar Lane Farms on Wednesday, July 25. The event, which included a tour of the facility, was attended by Mayor Bob Brenneman of Wooster, Ohio; representatives from the offices of U.S. Congressman Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); and other local dignitaries, business development personnel, and project team members. In addition to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, Touchstone’s partners for this project include GZA GeoEnvironmental (Cincinnati, Ohio) and OpenAlgae LLC (Austin, Texas).

The project consists of several indoor and outdoor ponds which are being used to determine how Touchstone’s phase-change material tackles three challenges inherent in algae biofuels production: maintaining temperature, minimizing water evaporation, and protecting against invasive species. The phase-change material absorbs infrared solar radiation during the day as latent heat and releases it to the water at night when temperatures drop. Covering the surface of the pond, the material regulates daily temperature fluctuations, reduces water loss from evaporation, and helps control the growth of invasive species.

Touchstone will operate the new system for approximately 14 months and gather data to substantiate future commercialization efforts. Once the algae ponds have matured, the algal biomass will be harvested and processed to collect the lipids. Roughly 2,000 gallons of algal oil will be recovered from the process per year and upgraded to renewable biofuel. The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research Development Center will perform pilot-scale process development and testing of an anaerobic digestion process to convert the residual algae biomass to methane.

During Phase 1 of the project, researchers constructed a small laboratory pond to demonstrate the viability of the material to improve algae growth. This helped researchers pinpoint performance requirements of the phase-change material and gas-injection components needed for the Phase 2 system, which is now installed at Cedar Lane Farms. The algae in the ponds will photosynthesize CO2 captured from a small, coal-fired combustor used to heat greenhouses and will naturally produce lipids (oils) as it grows.  

This effort is just one of a portfolio of projects backed by the U.S. Department of Energy and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to develop technologies for capturing CO2 and converting it into beneficial products. For more information on these projects, please visit the Office of Fossil Energy’s Innovative Concepts for Beneficial Reuse of Carbon Dioxide webpage. The project is managed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.