Startup Debuts Pilot Algae Plant in Alabama

Algae Systems is a five-year-old startup that is growing algae offshore in plastic bags.
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Algae Systems is a five-year-old startup that is growing algae offshore in plastic bags.
Algae Systems

Photo Credit: Algae Systems

Algae Systems has spent the last five years quietly working on a project to grow algae offshore. Gigaom notes that the idea is based on a concept from NASA, which is to grow algae in large plastic bags using waste water. Perhaps more notably is the group of people behind the project, including Vice President John Perry Barlow, who is better known for being a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. The company's CEO is Matt Atwood, a chemist who participates in Burning Man. 

Earlier this month, Algae Systems revealed what it is they have been working on for the last few years — a pilot plant based in Daphne, Ala. The team began working on the project last summer and completed it in June of this year. 

The plant works by using disinfected waste water, then combines it with CO2, and uses this to full up large plastic bags offshore. The waves force the substance to mix and the sun shines on the bags. After about four days, algae begins to grow. The algae is harvested and the leftover water in the plastic bags gets cleaned. This allows Algae Systems to sell the harvested algae to make diesel and jet fuel, while also being able to reuse the waste water.

“It’s impossible to have a biofuels company and be profitable and stable only off of fuels because it’s such a low value commodity,” Atwood told Gigaom.

The Alabama plant is currently just a demo scale and treats 40,000 gallons of waste water per acre a day. For fuel production, that comes to about 3,000 gallons per acre per year at their current rate of production.

The plant also has hydrothermal liquefaction technology, which turns algae and sewage into a liquid form, like a crude oil. Other substances can then be added to make different fuel types.

The Algae Systems hopes to eventually raise more funding and build a commercial plant. 

Algae Systems

Photo Credit: Algae Systems