Plankton Power, RTDC Propose Algae-to-Biofuels Pilot on Cape Cod

Plankton Power and the Regional Technology Development Corp. (RTDC) of Cape Cod announced recently the establishment of a public-private consortium focused on building a leading-edge facility to produce renewable biofuels from algae.

Under the leadership of Plankton Power, the RTDC, Massachusetts National Guard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), and Cape Cod Commission are joining forces to establish the Cape Cod Algae Biorefinery. The new facility will focus on pilot- and commercial-scale development of algae biodiesel (a type of biofuel) that is cost-competitive with existing petroleum- and vegetable-based fuels, with improved performance characteristics.

The planned biorefinery is proposed for construction on five acres of land on the Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR) in Bourne, Mass., supported by the Massachusetts National Guard pending legal and regulatory reviews. The pilot facility will provide the required infrastructure for testing commercial scale-up of a breakthrough algae-growth technology resulting from 20 years of cold saltwater species research and production.

The biodiesel from Plankton Power algae is a “drop-in” replacement for home heating oil and petroleum diesel and will be produced for commercial distribution. The Cape Cod Algae Biorefinery Consortium recently submitted a $20 million proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy that would leverage $4 million in private funding to construct the proposed facility. MassDevelopment, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and Loud Fuel Company are also supporting the initiative.

“Over the next few years, we are ready to set up the MMR as a partner for a number of critical clean-energy initiatives that will not only help the military but boost the regional economy,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.). “Working with entrepreneurs and the institutions based in Woods Hole, we want to make the MMR not just a center for the National Guard and Coast Guard, but an incubator for cutting-edge initiatives on algae as fuel, wind and solar energy, and unmanned aircraft for joint military and oceanographic research. The use of algae as a fuel has major potential and can be nurtured right on Cape Cod.”

Beginning in autumn 2010, Plankton Power expects to initiate pilot-scale operations to generate up to 1 million gallons of biodiesel per year—enough fuel to supply Cape Cod’s current biodiesel usage. The company projects that commercial-scale operations on 100 acres could eventually yield 100 million gallons of biodiesel, which would meet 5 percent of the demand for diesel and home heating fuel in the state of Massachusetts.

“We are extremely pleased by the vision and commitment of our consortium partners to achieve the infrastructure, resources, and collaboration necessary to advance commercial development of promising algae-to-biofuel technology on the Cape,” said Curtis S. Felix, chief executive officer and founder of Plankton Power. “The MMR location is ideal for this pilot project—the on-site wastewater treatment plant would provide an excellent source of nutrients for the algae, and MMR’s location close to the Cape Cod Canal would provide a convenient source of seawater as well as a renewable thermal energy source for algae growth and temperature control. We acknowledge the National Guard and the state of Massachusetts for providing critical support to this initiative.”

“The Cape Cod Algae Biorefinery initiative provides a perfect example of the tremendous economic development potential created by fusing the expertise and resources of the Cape’s research brain trust to achieve industry goals and government objectives—in this case, the federal mandate to quadruple biofuel use by 2020,” said Robert A. Curtis, chief executive officer of RTDC. “By joining forces, this consortium is positioning the Cape and Massachusetts for a leadership role in the development of a critical new, renewable source of energy that will create local jobs in algae farming and downstream industries, advance energy independence, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Plankton Power applies proprietary technologies to create cost-effective, low carbon-emitting, 100 percent renewable biofuel products from algae. The company’s algae crude, biodiesel, biojet fuel, and other products are derived from a breakthrough patent-pending technology: The system uses naturally occurring algae species, converts sunlight and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce the oil, and incorporates bioremediation of waste solids as a nutrient source to feed the algae. The process produces no hazardous materials, employs a green technology to extract oil from the algae, and generates byproducts that can be used in the production of animal feed and nutraceuticals. Plankton’s fully contained recirculating algae production system uses closed ponds and novel algae-to-fuel bioreactors and recycles much of the nutrient content and virtually all the water used in production, minimizing environmental impact. Plankton was incorporated in 2007 and is based in Wellfleet, Mass.

RTDC is a not-for-profit “virtual incubator” with the mission to facilitate technology transfer and technology commercialization from its affiliated institutions in Woods Hole, Mass., with the goal of stimulating regional economic development. Its primary technology focus areas include marine sciences, environmental sciences, life sciences, alternative energy, and aquaculture. The RTDC is funded in part by the John Adams Innovation Institute of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.
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