12,000 gallons of algae in 3 days?

According to an article in the Current Argus, a research group in New Mexico, CEHMM, claims to have harvested 12,000 gallons of algae in 3 and a half days. CEHMM partners with the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Carlsbad office and the New Mexico State University Agriculture Science Center in its algae research. CEHMM grows algae in two large ponds. I could only find a small picture of the pond at right.  By the looks of it, I would guess each pond is a quarter acre in size. If CEHMM is in fact getting 12,000 gallons in half a week from two such ponds it is truly remarkable.  Assuming the species of algae that is used is 50% oil and if they are able to extract 90% of the oil, that works out to about 257 barrels of oil a week from a half acre (almost 14,000 barrels per year).  It is rather hard to believe frankly.  Consider that Valcent only claims to get 33,000 gallons of oil or 785 barrels per year from a one acre vertical bioreactor.  CEHMM also claims to have a proprietary method of extracting oil from algae that they are keeping a secret. From the Current Argus,

At the Agriculture Science Center in Atoka, 5 miles outside the Artesia city limits, brooder ponds, incubators and two large harvesting ponds are dear to the heart of Lynn and researchers with the demonstration project. They have been working on the project since 2006, and they are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The challenges have been many. The first was to grow algae that are stable and highly productive in our climate and provide them with optimum nutrients.

The second challenge was the ability to harvest the micro algae, which is so small the human eye can't see it, other than knowing it is in the pond by the greenish color of the water. But filtering and capturing the algae on a large scale looks promising, Lynn said.

The third, and biggest challenge, will be the extraction of the algae's desirable oil and developing the techniques for mass extraction in a cost-effective manner.

Lynn said CEHMM is fortunate to have NMSU's infrastructure, its researchers and Los Alamos National Lab working with his organization. "I honestly think we have the best staff in this industry," Lynn said. "No one else is trained in this industry like the people that we have." Lynn said because of the advances CEHMM has made since it began the research, the entire process of converting algae oil to biofuel is being kept under wraps. "We have actually had people representing companies come to the agriculture science center and try to find out how we are doing it," Lynn said. "Some have even come with cameras. We asked them to leave."


Jim Bowery

July 6, 2008 at 12:25 PM

The fraction of algae water that is actually dry mass algae (including algae oil) is only about 1/3000.


July 6, 2008 at 1:38 PM

Not knowing the concentration of algae (cells/ml) the article is meaningless. The assumption that algae is 50% lipid is also naive. While it may be possible under stress for an algae to produce 50% lipid, it severely limits the the overall production process. If algae were to produce 50% lipid (about 1/3 lighter than water) it would float and then die - the production process would end right there. Algae production isn't the economic limiting factor - its all the other process costs and energy costs that are invested before the algae becomes usable fuel. If these people aren't publishing their total economics (costs) they aren't doing anything - but investor fishing.

das Kapitalist

July 7, 2008 at 1:47 AM


CEHMM is a 501(c)(3), which means it is a non-profit company. Non-profits are not investment vehicles, so I doubt they are fishing for investment. Also, CEHMM works in partnership with New Mexico State University, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management. So they probably exist on government grants.

Also, many algae species are 50% lipids by weight. Since algae need sunlight to survive, perhaps floating to the top is a useful trait? Anyway, seehere for one of many references to algae containing up to 50% oil by weight.

das Kapitalist

July 7, 2008 at 1:54 AM

Jim Bowery,

While I find it hard to believe that they harvested 12,000 gallons of algae in half a week, I find it even harder to believe that they would boast of harvesting 12,000 gallons of algae water of which only 1/3000 is actual algae (4 gallons) and of which 50% at most is actual oil (2 gallons).

My guess is the reporter just got the facts wrong.