WRITTEN BY REID WRIGHT - CURRENT-ARGUS
MONDAY, 07 JUNE 2010 06:00
ARTESIA — It takes hundreds of thousands of years for fossil organisms beneath the earth's crust to simmer into crude petroleum. It takes a single day to make 1,000 gallons of crude algae biofuel at a small facility in southeast New Mexico.
"This, right now, is the next step in getting to where we need to be as a country in having a solid, renewable fuel profile and solid renewable fuels available, and do it at a commercial and industrial scale." said Douglas Lynn, executive director of The Center for Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management in Carlsbad.
Officials cut the ribbon today on the world's first biorefinery designed specifically to extract biofuel from micro algae. The facility was constructed at the site of the CEHMM algae production ponds near Artesia.
CEHMM teamed up with Solution Recovery Systems to develop the system, which can separate the crude bio diesel fuel from the bio-mass byproduct, which is rich in nutrients and is being considered as a supplement in livestock feed, he said.
Lynn said the ponds and facility were constructed on land not being used for agriculture and the process uses water that is too salty to be used for drinking or irrigation. Processes are being explored to purify wastewater from the oilfields to be used in the algae process, he said.
The fuel produced is more lubricating to engine parts than standard petroleum and cleans engine systems. The fuel is also lower in emissions, he said.
In fact, the salt water micro-algae organisms in the CEHMM ponds actually consume carbon dioxide, Greg Brown, business manager for CEHMM said. A Sandia National Laboratory Study revealed a 700,000 gallon micro-algae pond can sequester one metric ton of carbon per day, he said.
The green fluid produced in the pond is reduced to slurry from which the oil and the biomass are separated, Lynn said. 90 percent of the mass of the crude oil can be converted to fuel. The remaining bio-mass could conceivably be fed to livestock because it contains up to 60 percent protein, he said.
The sunny weather, open spaces and brackish ground water make southeast New Mexico and parts of Texas ideal for Algae production, Lynn said.
But Lynn and local government representatives who spoke at the event have no illusions of the fuel replacing petroleum in the country. Instead, they hope it will serve to supplement the fossil fuel.
"We're not sitting here saying this is going to take the place of domestic oil," Lynn said. "This is the first step to alleviating our dependency on foreign oil."
Lynn said the CEHMM facility has flourished from the support of local individuals and organizations. The algae bio-fuel technology at the facility has attracted international attention. He said the system can be easily scaled up to produce more than a hundred new jobs.
However, the fledging industry is ahead of state policy.
Congressman Harry Teague said he would like to see Algae bio-fuels given the same tax credit as other bio-fuels.
Brown said the CEHMM facility, which uses only salt water, fertilizer and biomaterial, is subject to the same regulations as a dairy farm waste pond.
"You got a lot of people looking at New Mexico to come in with this industry," he said. "But the permitting process is so rigorous and adds so much to the cost. You'll go to Texas and you don't have to do any of it."
Lynn thanked a number of organizations, government representatives and individuals for their support on the project.
"You can see," he said, "How this has evolved into a tremendous collaboration among different individuals and different entities."
"I think it's a huge step forward," Teague said.