New Mexico Patent of the Month – November 2021

The search for petroleum alternatives has been ongoing as the world works to switch to sustainable solutions. The solution might vary depending on the application at hand, but one such solution surrounds the use of phototropic organisms – namely, algae. Algae is an excellent candidate for both agricultural and transportation applications as well providing a feedstock for a variety of products. NSE, Inc. or New Solutions Energy, a New Mexico-based  company, has designed a method to cultivate phototropic microorganisms.

Their cultivation methods result in an energy-efficient closed loop phototropic organism growth system. Closed loop means the algae are not exposed to unfiltered ambient air and therefore not contaminated by windblown particles. Their method uses photo-bioreactors (PBR) to expose algae colonies to sunlight through transparent plastic tubing. The PBR is coupled to an indoor storage tank system which shields the algae from harsh ambient conditions. This system optimizes the exposure to sunlight, temperature, and nutrients to maximize algal growth. The entire system can be easily transported, brought indoors on cold winter nights, and adjusted as needed.

A study by the University of Minnesota indicates that algae derived biomass performs as well as alfalfa in dairy cattle diets. If cultivation techniques can be provided on a cost effective basis, cultivated algae can provide a valuable oil fraction, a high-value protein co-product, and algae derived meal for animal feed; all while absorbing carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions.

These 10 algae facts might provide some insight into the potential of algae cultivation, and provide an idea of how these cultivation methods might be globally beneficial.

  • Algae’s growth is phenomenal: to translate it agriculturally, algae crops grow 20 to 30 times faster than any other food crop.
  • Output is staggering: algae can produce 6,000 gallons of oil and 98 tons of meal per acre —every year. That’s about 30 to 100 times more than other alternative biofuel sources, such as soybeans.
  • Algae biomass provides the most rapidly harvestable biofuel feedstock: Algae colonies can reach harvest size in as little as 48 hours, and appropriately designed cultivators can harvest algae biomass continuously.
  • Algae biomass absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) while growing. Approximately 180 tons of CO2 are absorbed annually from the atmosphere per acre of algae, and algae absorbs other greenhouse gases as well.
  • Appropriately designed cultivators make very efficient use of water; 85-97% of all water can be recovered and reused.
  • Algae biomass derived oil is suitable for use in existing petrochemical refineries and distribution systems. Ethanol, in comparison, is an aggressive solvent; requiring modifications to existing infrastructure, resulting in additional cost.
  • Algae biomass derived meal is high in protein (39%) and is suitable for use as animal feed and as nutritional supplements. Algae are even used directly as a food source by consumers in some cultures.
  • Algae-based fuels are considered to be carbon neutral. When burned, they offer a 50 to 80 percent reduction in particulate emissions versus fossil fuels, with no loss of power. Carbon emissions from algae derived fuel is offset by the CO2 absorbed from the atmosphere during the cultivation of algae.
  • Algae-based fuel is naturally sulfur-free (sulfur needs to be removed from some types of petroleum crude oil, increasing the cost of refining).
  • Just 15,000 square miles of algae farms could replace all the petroleum used in the U.S. per year, according to the Department of Energy. That is about one-sixth the size of Minnesota.

Are you developing new technology for an existing application? Did you know your development work could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you can receive up to 14% back on your expenses? Even if your development isn’t successful your work may still qualify for R&D credits (i.e. you don’t need to have a patent to qualify). To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.

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