Harvesting hydrogen from algae

By Luke Geiver | June 15, 2010
Posted July 9, 2010

OriginOil, an algae-to-oil developer, has discovered a process to extract hydrogen from algae. The new technology, called the Hydrogen Harvester, works by capturing hydrogen that is readily available in the algae growth matrix, as opposed to breaking the carbon-hydrogen bonds in the algae itself, according to Brian Goodall, OriginOil's chief technology officer. The new technology presents a critical development for a fully integrated algal biorefinery, said Goodall. "All routes from algae to 'drop-in' fuels such as renewable diesel and jet fuel require hydrogen and hydrogen treating. The Hydrogen Harvester technology would eliminate the need for hydrogen pipelines and dependence on existing refineries, which are typically far removed from ideal sites for algae growth," Goodall added.

The process also involves targeting the more weakly bound hydrogen, which Goodall said helps to avoid "the use of energy or stressing, genetic modification or other invasive activities." By minimizing energy inputs and stress levels, "we are tapping the algae system for hydrogen and allowing all other growth and harvesting processes to go on undisturbed," Goodall said. "External energy inputs are truly minimal, but it takes energy to move water/algae, for example. In terms of stress-other approaches have focused on depriving the algae of sulfur, and/or investigating genetically modified species. Our technology requires neither of these approaches, generating biomass, oil and hydrogen."

After filing for patent protection, Goodall said the technology should be applicable to any algae production system, but the company is not currently discussing the exact process of the system. Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO, noted the harvester's ability to achieve energy-balance. "By harvesting hydrogen from algae we are able to increase the energy output of virtually any algae production system. The result is a photosynthetic technology platform that yields energy in the form of oil, biomass and hydrogen," said Eckelberry.
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