Algenol, a Maryland-based company said that its business partner BioFields has licensed its technology and invested $850 million to build a saltwater algae farm in the Sonoran Desert in northwest Mexico. The production is scheduled to begin next year.
Algenol CEO Paul Woods said Thursday that the ethanol produced at the farm will cost $1 less than today’s gasoline, that is about $3/gallon.
The company chose from a collection of 10,000 strains of algae and used molecular biology to enhance certain traits. Their engineers enhanced certain algaes’ ability to make sugar and, through their enzymes, to ferment the sugar and produce ethanol.
The algae is grown in tubes, plastic bags, or open ponds and then harvested and pressed for its oil. Some companies propose taking the leftover biomass and burn it or using it for feeding the animals.
Paul Woods claimed that Algenol’s system can produce 6,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year, far more than corn’s rate of 370 gallons per acre per year or sugar cane’s at 890 gallons per acre per year. Its process absorbs 90% of the CO2 that is fed to the algae bioreactors. Between 50-70% percent of the CO2 goes into ethanol.