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Cleantech Extracting Oil through Algae and Fish

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US - An expert on algae has said that LiveFuels' biofuel-from-fish approach not is not an impossible venture.

According to a report from CleanTech Group, former NREL algae scientist John Benemann notes others are also pursuing bio oil from algae-fed aquaculture, as LiveFuels prepares to hit the street for a Series B round.

Dr. John Benemann, one of the authors of a seminal U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory report from 1998 on biofuel from algae and an internationally-recognized bioenergy expert said he thinks LiveFuels is “in as good of shape as anybody” to make its R&D happen.

He said LiveFuels’ process overcomes major problems of harvesting and processing the algae. But the downside is that the company still has to make the process efficient, and it becomes more complicated growing two species—the algae and the fish—than one.

However, he said the filter-feeding fish do “a pretty good job” harvesting the algae, metabolizing it and storing oil.

San Carlos, Calif.-based LiveFuels is hoping to develop biofuels from algae—squeezing the liquid fuel out of fish by feeding them algae for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

While LiveFuels had previously described its business as pursuing oil extraction directly from the algae themselves, extracting it now from fish is a process the company has been exploring practically since it was founded, Morgenthaler-Jones said.

LiveFuels announced it has started a pilot facility in Brownsville, Texas. The facility—which includes 45 acres of open saltwater ponds on repurposed fish/shrimp farming land—is expected to be used to research optimizing algal productivity and increasing the rates of conversion of biomass into renewable oils.

LiveFuels isn't the first to be exploring biofuel from such unconventional aquatic feedstocks. Professor David Brune, previously at South Carolina-based Clemson University in the agricultural and biological department, had been working on a similar approach before recently leaving the university.

Brune and his students were experimenting with a novel way to extract oil from algae using brine shrimp. Trials showed that brine shrimp, feeding on micro algae, could produce up to 500 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year with little environmental waste. Brune did not return a request for comment.

Another company, KentBioEnergy in Southern California also tried to get tilapia to eat the algae, but was unsuccessful because it used the wrong species of algae.