June 3, 2008 Los Angeles-based OriginOil has developed breakthrough technology that hat it believes will enable the transformation of algae oil into a true competitor for petroleum. The company filed a patent that would protect its invention of a scalable system that is critical to achieving high volume algae production to replace petroleum.

Micro-algae converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into natural oil (known as algae oil, or algal oil) through photosynthesis. Oil as we know it (the black stuff) is made up of algae that decomposed millions of years ago and therefore contains CO2 that was captured millions of years ago. When it is burned this "old" CO2 is released resulting in global warming. The argument in favor of using algae cultivated today is that it is “carbon neutral” - ie. it releases the carbon it has just absorbed rather than adding to the overall level of CO2.

Based on its patent-pending technology called Quantum Fracturing, the scalable OriginOil system will allow both horizontal and vertical “stacking” of many Helix BioReactors into an integrated network of fully automated, portable, and remotely monitored growth units. The system addresses both the growth of the algae as well as the extraction of the oil. The modular design means a large number of Helix BioReactors can be connected to a small number of extraction units to achieve economies of scale and higher production of algae oil.

According to Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil’s president and CEO, the patent filing is important as it helps to enable the industrialization of algae production. “As we envision it, the system is modular, stackable, truckable, self-sufficient, adaptable, fully remote-manageable, and, most of all, scalable,” Eckelberry said.

Algae has emerged as a promising source for alternative energy production on a number of fronts. Researchers have found a way for unicellular plants such as algae to be able to produce hydrogen for use to power efficient, environmentally clean vehicles, while Airbus plans to turn algae oil into aviation fuel.

Further reading at OriginOil.

View gallery - 2 images