Algae fuels $4m investment in region

Algae.Tec's new facility opens tomorrow. Picture: ROSS PULSFORD
Algae.Tec's new facility opens tomorrow. Picture: ROSS PULSFORD

To many people, algae is just an annoying green growth in pools and ponds, best treated with some chlorine.

To Roger Stroud, it is the essential ingredient to create sustainable fuels such as bio-diesel and jet fuel.

The executive chairman of Algae.Tec will be in the Shoalhaven tomorrow for the official commissioning of Australia's first engineered "algae to biofuels" facility.

The showcase facility - which to onlookers appears as five green shipping containers - is the first full-scale, working example of the company's algae growth and harvesting system.

Mr Stroud said the operation, called Shoalhaven One, would use ethanol producer Manildra Group's carbon dioxide waste to help grow the algae.

"In effect what we've got in the container is a perpetual algal bloom," he said.

"The aim of the system is to produce algae in sufficient yield and at sufficiently low cost that it can be competitive with existing fossil fuels and to then produce those products, in particular ... green aviation fuel and bio-diesel, to [replace] the fuels that exist at the moment."

The industrial-scale technology on show near Nowra allows algae to grow rapidly in a modified shipping container through the introduction of light, carbon dioxide and nutrients in water.

It is then broken down to separate oil - in this case at levels of about 30 per cent - and biomass, which can both be used to create a range of products including fuels.

Mr Stroud estimated the one operating container at the new facility could produce about 250 tonnes of algae per year.

An independent group would validate results.

The plant - which represents more than $4 million of investment in the region - was a key step in the company's plans to commercialise its system, which Mr Stroud hoped would start in the next six to eight months.

Commercial facilities would be far larger than the showcase, possibly with as many as 2000 containers.

Ultimately, Mr Stroud said the company would be "delighted" to create such a facility in the region.

"No decision has been made but ... we like the Illawarra area, the community has been very, very supportive of us and we'd like to reciprocate."

NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher will open the facility.