Washington companies partner to produce biochemicals from microalgae

By Lisa Gibson
Posted November 17, 2009, at 2:27 p.m. CST

Under a new partnership, Seattle-based Blue Marble Energy Corp. will produce its biochemicals using a supply of microalgae from algae producer Bionavitas, Redmond, Wash.

Thus far, Blue Marble has made biochemicals, specifically esters-a group of chemicals used in food, fragrances, plastics, resins and adhesives-using mainly the waste grain from a neighboring brewery, according to Danielle Hendrix, Blue Marble communications manager. The new partnership does not specify a fixed amount of algae, she said, and is an open research and development agreement. "We haven't decided on a cap," she said.

Blue Marble's conversion system Acid Gas and Ammonia Targeted Extraction can use wet biomass, bypassing the expensive, energy-intensive drying process, according to the company. Through anaerobic digestion and fermentation, the AGATE process manipulates microbial environments to produce methane, hydrogen, esters, amides and anhydrous ammonia. The process uses non-genetically modified microorganisms and can be adjusted to meet changing economic opportunities and market needs, according to Blue Marble.

Bionavitas uses its proprietary Light Immersion Technology to grow algae to remediate zinc, lead, cadmium, boron, mercury and other undesirable elements and components of industrial waste streams. The technology helps solve one major problem in algae growth: as it grows, it becomes denser and blocks out vital light. Light Immersion Technology brings light to the algae culture in both open ponds and closed bioreactors through a system of light rods extending deep into the algae culture, according to Bionavitas. By distributing light below the surface layer and releasing it in controlled locations, algae cultures can grow denser. In external canal systems, the rods distribute light from the sun into the culture, according to the company.

The partnership project is still about 18 to 24 months away from actual consumption, Hendrix said, adding that off-take partners eventually will be established. Blue Marble already has off-take partnerships for the biochemicals it produces from waste streams.

Blue Marble has a precommercial pilot site in Seattle including a prototype AGATE platform to test and develop process improvements. It currently processes 0.3 tons of biomass per day with a goal of scaling to one ton per day by the end of the year, according to the company. Feestocks tested include wild grasses, duckweed, food waste and pulp mill waste, among others. Blue Marble is in the final stages of securing an industrial plot in Lincoln County, Wash., in collaboration with Barr-Tech LLC for an industrial plant slated for operation in the third quarter of 2010. It will use cellulosic biomass along with algae and food waste to produce biochemicals and energy, according to the company.