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PNNL creates way to make natural gas from algae

May 7, 2009 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

A new method for converting algae into natural gas for use in pipelines and power generation has been transferred to the marketplace under a license between Genifuel Corp. and Battelle.

The process was developed at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, which is operated by Battelle. Work was done most recently at the new Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at Washington State University Tri-Cities, a joint project of the university and PNNL.

The new technology, called catalytic hydrothermal gasification, creates natural gas out of algae more quickly, more efficiently and at higher yields than other biofuel processes, according to the lab.

Doug Elliott, the PNNL scientist who invented the gasification process, said wet biomass like algae is placed in the gasifier, where it catalytically converted and then fuel gas and carbon dioxide are collected. The carbon dioxide can be used to grow more algae.

"It's a completely green process," Elliott said in a statement.

PNNL originally developed the catalytic gasification process to clean up industrial and food processing waste as an alternative to incineration. The technology then was advanced to include a more stable catalyst that enables it to also convert wet biomass, such as algae.

"Algae and other aquatic biomass hold significant promise for our country's ability to produce renewable energy domestically," said Jim Oyler, president of Genefuel, which has developed methods to grow and harvest aquatic biomass. "With this gasification process, we can convert the biomass to a clean fuel that is almost completely carbon neutral."

Genefuel is based in Salt Lake City, and has an exclusive license for the technology.