What SRS Energy Wants, Everybody Wants
Brian Goodall, vice president of business development for SRS Energy, and his team have been working on algae oil separation technology since 2007, and according to him, “If we aren’t making money by 2014, I’m just going to give up.” The SRS Energy technology platform isn’t just about algae oil separation, but it actually covers a wide scope of oil separation. The company formed after an engineer in a southeast Michigan compressor plant began researching ways to separate contaminants found in metalworking fluids. Using a modified centrifuge-based approach, that engineer quit his job at the compressor plant and formed what is known today as SRS.
Today, SRS is working on a wet-extraction technique, because Goodall says their work with supercritical CO2 or dry-hexane extraction of lipids proved to be either too costly or too energy intensive. The preferred SRS process utilizes heat and chemical conditioning of the cells followed by a physical extraction process they call the “sledgehammer,” which doesn’t destroy the cells. The problem with algae cells, Goodall says, “is that the lipids are spread throughout the algae cell—they are everywhere.” Even if you break the cell open (via cell disruption technology), the oil still stays where it is and you can’t get it all out, Goodall explains. And for making value-added products, you need all of the oil out.
“The solution is to make the membrane permeable,” he says, and that’s achieved through a combination of chemicals, heat and pH balance. “The secret is partial and selective hydrolysis to break open the polysaccharides.” Although the SRS Energy team hasn’t made their processes fully commercial yet, (they haven’t even issued a press release Goodall says), the company appears to be on its way to success given a number of tests at the bench- and demonstration-scale. The technology can be leased today, and if a company has a specific need like fish meal or lipid extraction, Goodall says the company can tweak its systems. “I’m done spending money,” he says. “I want to make money.”