LOS ANGELES and PARIS — U.S.-based firm OriginOil and French wastewater systems provider Ennesys have teamed up to develop a radical solution for using algae to heat buildings, OriginOil has announced.
Algae is a source of many nutrients that can be found in wastewater and the two companies believe that those nutrients can be processed to produce energy and heat. But their ambition goes a step further, as they believe they can actually grow algae located on walls and roofs, thus allowing the organisms to simultaneously clean the water and the building and heat the site.
The two companies set up a joint venture in 2010 and have been working on developing what they call “photobioreactors.” Those are thin, flat panels that can be fitted onto a building’s facade. The building’s wastewater will be channeled from the bathrooms and kitchens and brought to the panels where algae will feed on nutrients like phosphorous and potassium and will clean the water, while also producing energy.
To illustrate how this works, OriginOil has released a company video that demonstrates the various stages of the process. The video features its Algae Appliance Model 4 trial system, which first collects algae into clumps through extractor tubes. From there, the algae floats to the surface in the form of bubbles, before being removed and placed onto a conveyor belt, where solids are extracted. According to the company, 95% of the wastewater can be extracted, which leaves about 5% of solids.
The process takes place in the first Model 4 system, which was brought to France earlier this year to be integrated into Ennesys’ “wall growing system,” and the system was installed in the company’s office as a demonstration. The demonstration not only shows how the system works but is also designed to test how suitable algae will be in supporting large commercial buildings and complexes, OriginOil said in a statement. Ennesys hopes that the system will assist businesses in France to achieve a positive energy balance and natural water management and help the country meet the goals set in its 2020 sustainable energy framework.
In an interview with Reuters, Pierre Tauzinat, CEO of Ennesys, commented that the process creates a perfect biomass, produced in 24 to 48 hours from phytoplankton, while also producing pure water. It is perfectly sustainable, because the microalgae nourish themselves from everything inside the wastewater.
The use of algae is set to gain popularity, as more and more businesses become interested in the opportunities it provides. Earlier this year U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to offer $14 million through the Department of Energy for research and development of biofuels from algae. The Department has estimated that the substance could be used as a substitute for around 17% of the U.S. import of oil for transportation.
A joint European project, supported by the European Union, is investing millions in growing micro-algae using wastewater nutrients in a wastewater treatment plant in Chiclana, southern Spain, as a part of the EU P7 program, which supports energy-related projects.