Aurora Biofuels: Pilot plant operating successfully

By Susanne Retka Schill | February 10, 2009
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Web exclusive posted March 6, 2009, at 3:06 p.m. CST

On March 4, Alameda, Calif.-based Aurora Biofuels Inc. reported that its pilot-scale facility has operated for 18 months and successfully has produced quality biodiesel from algae meeting ASTM standards.

Aurora Biofuels said it has stably cultivated high-oil producing algae in seawater-fed, open ponds in a Florida pilot-scale facility. The facility at an unnamed location has produced slightly under 1,000 gallons of oil per year from one-eighth of an acre surface area. The company estimates that will translate into 6,000 gallons-per-year-per-acre when scaled up to commercial size. The company has patents pending on its process which includes growth, harvesting, oil extraction and conversion to biodiesel. "The traditional process for algae includes centrifugation and drying which are high cost," Walsh said. "We have employed waste water technology and a wet extraction process to lower the cost to be competitive in a commodity market." The company scientists and engineers have also used new technological screening processes combined with microbial biology to identify natural algae strains.
"Our results prove that large-scale outdoor production of biodiesel from microalgae is entirely within our reach, and that our technology can be optimized and is ready to scale," Walsh said. "In the near-term we expect to demonstrate that the economics of this process can produce biodiesel that is price-competitive with fossil fuels."

The company expects to have a 10- to 20-acre pond operational in the third quarter of this year as part of a demonstration plant which will include biodiesel production. An additional 50-acre pond is planned for completion in the third quarter of 2010. "The large scale commercial facilities will have multiple 50 acre modules associated with them," Walsh said. "We will be going to full commercial scale after this is proven out in late 2010. We would expect 2012 for the first large scale plant."

Aurora Biofuels is a venture-backed development company with investments from Oak Investment Partners, Noventi Ventures and Gabriel Venture Partners.

The company also recently announced that it has named a new chief executive officer and scientific advisor to speed up the commercialization of its algal biofuels. Effective immediately, Robert Wash is Aurora Biofuels' new CEO. Most recently president of LS9 Inc., Walsh has over 25 years of experience in the petroleum industry, serving as general manager of supply for Shell Europe Oil Products from 2001 to 2005. With the appointment of Walsh, Matthew Caspari, a founder and the company's previous CEO, will become vice president of business development.

As well, Aurora Biofuels has added a new member to its scientific advisory board. Mario Tredici, professor of microbiology at the University of Florence, Italy, joins Christoph Benning, professor of biochemistry at Michigan State University; William Freytag, CEO of BaroFold, Inc.; and, Krishna Niyogi, professor of plant and microbial biology at the University of California-Berkeley. Tredici is a leader in the mass cultivation of microalgae as feed, chemical and renewable fuels. He is replacing Robert Tigan, professor molecular biology and biochemistry at UC-Berkeley.

"Aurora Biofuels' world class team has made great progress developing advanced, economical algae biotech and process engineering technology," said Jim Long, partner at Gabriel Venture Partners and chairman of the Aurora's board of directors. "With Bob Walsh joining the team, we can now move quickly towards commercializing this proprietary technology."
 
 
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