Harkin Visits For Update on Algae Ethanol Project

AUGUST 21ST, 2008 | Harkin for Senate

By KEVIN SLATER | Associate Editor

Read the original story at SW Iowa News

The potential of algae as an energy source has a lot of people excited, including Iowa senator Tom Harkin.

Monday Harkin was in town to meet with representatives from Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc. and Shenandoah Chamber and Industry Association Director Gregg Connell at the chamber’s office to hear an update on GPRE’s plan.

“As chairman of the Agricultural Committee I’ve put a lot of emphasis on the Farm Bill on building more cellulose ethanol plants, and now I’ve become aware of algae and how we can get diesel fuel basically out of algae,” said Harkin after the meeting. “I’ve looked at different companies around the United States and we’ve got testimony about this, and quite frankly the promise of growing algae, which only takes sunlight and CO2, the oils that you get from them for diesel is just phenomenal.

“I heard what Gregg Connell was doing down here and I just wanted to come down and take a look at this proposal from Green Plains Renewable Energy and see what they’re doing at the ethanol plant. This could be the first pilot algae project in the United States, happening right here in Shenandoah.”

Connell said Senator Harkin has been one of the biggest driving forces in the alternative fuels arena, and having his support for the project is a huge boost.

“Senator Harkin is maybe the main person responsible for the renewable fuels revolution in America,” said Connell. “His stance for ethanol and biodiesel actually made those markets happen.”

Back in April GPRE was approved for a $2,190,407 grant by the Iowa Power Fund to start up a test project for growing algae and harvesting its oil in their Shenandoah plant.

The expected production is about eight kilograms per day of algal biomass, and the cost is approximately $2,803,844. GPRE would be responsible for slightly over $600,000, which is not covered by the Iowa Power Fund grant.

The second phase, which would cost about $4,209,266 would be to build a facility about 10 times the size of the first one and would produce roughly 81 kilograms a day of algal biomass.

The final phase of the project, which would be a commercial facility would cost around $80 million and produce 850 kilograms per hectare a day of algal biomass.

Microalgae have much faster growth-rates than terrestrial crops. The per unit area yield of oil from algae is estimated to be from between 5,000 to 20,000 gallons per acre, per year; this is seven to 30 times greater than the next best crop, Chinese tallow (699 gallons).

Connell said the project is on track to start sometime in September, and people should be able to see the progress by October.

“We are looking to get started towards the beginning to middle of September and we hope there will be some sort of visible presence by mid-October,” Connell explained. “Then the project moves forward with accordance to how successful this phase is.”

Connell said the first phase is growing algae, identifying the algae best for our climate, identifying the algae best for the CO2 that GPRE has and the blowback water from their ethanol.

“Depending one how successful that is, we expect this project to move along rapidly,” Connell added.

Senator Harkin said the prospects of algae are exciting, and moving in the direction this country needs.

“It’s clear that we’ve got to develop new energy sources in this country, especially for liquid fuels,” said Harkin. “I’m a very strong proponent of ethanol. We’ve got to build more ethanol plants.”

Despite some of the negative press grain-based ethanol receives, Connell and Harkin both believe they are positive and a good alternative to dependence on foreign oils.

“Regardless of what you hear from the oil companies, Merrill Lynch did a study and found that ethanol saved people tremendous money on gasoline over the country as a whole,” said Connell. “We know and Senator Harkin knows that ethanol and biodiesel are not the whole answer, but they’re part of a huge jigsaw puzzle and those pieces are important.

“Senator Harkin has always fought for biofuels. He realizes that you can’t go to phase two, which will be cellulistic biofuels, which will be algae, without phase one, which is grain-based alcohols.

“We’re happy to have his support. We know that Senator Harkin does what’s best for this country and we know what’s best for this country is to have greater energy independence.”

“This is very exciting, it’s got a ways to go obviously, but I’m very enthused about it and would like to know how I can help,” added Harkin.

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