Los Angeles water dept. seeks algae information

Get in early on Los Angeles' interest in developing algae production demonstrations on Owens Lake far north of the city.
By Ron Kotrba | May 03, 2012

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is opening a request for information for algae production and biomass conversion. The water department is more used to doing requests for proposals, but this is different.

The department, which serves 3.8 million people, has to deal with dust emissions off of the dry Owens Lake far north of the city, where the department dumps 95,000 acre-feet of fresh water annually to help keep dust emissions down. The department is considering demonstrating algae production in this dry lake, along with biomass conversion approaches.

In the RFI, the department states:

“Owens Lake is a mostly dry lake, occupying approximately 110 square miles in area, in the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in Inyo County, Calif. It is located approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Lone Pine, Calif.

“LADWP currently floods approximately 29 square miles of the lake’s surface with up to 95,000 acre-feet of freshwater from its aqueduct each year to control dust emissions from the lake. Although the aqueduct water pumped onto the lake is originally freshwater, it eventually becomes saline due to the presence of salts on the lake’s surface. Active flooding is required during the “dust season” between Oct. 1 and June 30. However, flooding actually begins in August to ensure dust control areas are fully in compliance by October. During the summer months, most of the water on the lake evaporates. 

“This vast flooded area should be an ideal location to produce algae because an extensive water conveyance system is already in place, which could be modified for algae production. In addition, the location gets plenty of sun, and there are several local sources of naturally occurring nutrients which could be used as fertilizer for algae production. And if a biomass conversion plant was constructed near the lake, the CO2 and nutrients produced during operation could be used on the lake to increase algae production. Some of the algae produced on the lake as well other local sources of 50 biomass could be converted in the biomass plant to a relatively high-grade syngas or methane which could be used to produce electrical power, biofuel, or chemicals.

“Although Owens Lake is a mostly dry lake, it is a nationally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) as designated by the National Audubon Society. The lake was so designated due to the thousands of shorebirds that migrate to the lake each year and also because of the large numbers of snowy plovers that nest there. In addition, several thousand snow geese and ducks remain on the lake all year round. Because of the presence of wildlife on the lake, consideration would need to be given to protecting and enhancing their well being in the design, construction, and operation of algae production on the lake.

“LADWP envisions that the information obtained from this RFI would be used to develop an RFP for a multi-acre commercial-scale algae production demonstration facility at Owens Lake which would attempt to accomplish the goals listed below. If successful, it is envisioned that this commercial-scale algae production demonstration facility would be used to market and attract public and private interests in developing commercial-scale algae production on Owens Lake.

“LADWP’s preliminary goals for algae production on Owens Lake include:

A.        Reduce dust emissions

B.        Reduce water consumption

C.        Improve water quality

D.        Generate revenues

E.        Expand and Improve Wildlife Habitat

F.         Create Positive Visual Impacts

LADWP’s preliminary goals for biomass conversion on Owens Lake include:

A.        Produce high purity syngas or methane

B.        Produce none or low levels of criteria air pollutants and particulates

C.        Can efficiently convert aquatic plants and algae

D.        Produce none or low levels of tars

E.        Recycles nutrients for use by aquatic plants and algae

F.         Improves water quality”

The interest is driven by the idea to have private companies develop on the lake, says Thomas Dailor with LADWP. “We normally kill algae, not grow it,” he tells me.

To participate, you have to register with the department as a vendor. Go to www.ladwp.com and under the Partners section, click Become a Vendor. Then hit eRSP, which stands for electronic Request, Solicit and Procure. On the left-hand side click Vendor Registration. Once registered, you will be able to look at the request.  

Information must be submitted by 2:00pm May 28.