From Dutch sewers to jet fuel -- via algae

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch biotechnology firm Ingrepro plans to harness waste from sewers, farms and industry to produce biofuel and algae, which it hopes will eventually power airplanes, its chief executive said on Thursday.

Ingrepro plans four initial projects in the Netherlands, and is set to start the first in September which aims to supply 20 percent of a city’s energy needs with biogas made from sewage waste while using the leftover nutrients for algae production.

“A lot of waste waters have a lot of nutrients, and people don’t know what to do with them -- so why not grow the algae in the waste,” Carel Callenbach told Reuters in an interview.

“The waste of biomethane (biogas) plants has very rich nutrients left over. At the moment they just pump it to the river or throw it away -- but we say next to these biomethane plants you need to build algal ponds to grow biomass.”

Other projects will use the waste from the potato industry, a food composting company and a large farm to produce energy from biogas and cultivate algae.

Callenbach said that despite the financial crisis, the company was not finding it more difficult to secure financing for projects because he saw investor interest for sustainable energy initiatives remaining strong.

The firm, which had revenues of about 2 million euros ($2.6 million) in 2008, is also negotiating similar projects in Malaysia, where its subsidiary is based, and in Brazil. It is targeting sales of 8 to 10 million euros in 2010.

Callenbach has worked with algae since 2001 and Ingrepro produces 50 tons a year for use in products ranging from plastics to feed ingredients. It also aims to produce jet fuel by extracting oil from the algae.

“We are not focusing on biodiesel we are focusing on aviation fuel because we think the car industry will go electric and liquid fuels will only be needed in airplanes,” Callenbach said.

He expected the firm would produce a small amount of jet fuel this year and offer it on a larger scale by 2011.

Companies are racing to find economic ways to turn algae, one of the planet’s oldest life forms, into vegetable oil that can be made into biodiesel, kerosene for jets and other fuels.

Such fuels are considered to be net carbon neutral because the algae absorbs greenhouse gases when it grows.

Callenbach said he aimed to integrate algae production into other processes so that waste could be used as a raw material. But he said the firm was experiencing some opposition from sewage companies reluctant to change existing infrastructure.

“Algae as a standalone has no future. Algae as an integrated system -- that is the only way that algae will go into the future.”