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Touchstone Kicks off Alternative Fuel Project in Wooster, OH

CO2 Capture-Algae Site in Wooster, OH

Triadelphia, WV – At the host site of Cedar Lane Farms, a commercial greenhouse and nursery in Wooster, Ohio, a new crop is now in development; raceway ponds full of algae that are capable of generating thousands of gallons of algal oil to be upgraded into renewable biofuel. On Wednesday, Touchstone Research Laboratory of Triadelphia, WV will kick off its Department of Energy (DOE)-awarded project to produce fuels and other high-value, bio-based products from algae that feed on carbon dioxide, sunlight and nutrients. Touchstone is working with DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to bring the project to fruition. Other project partners include: The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research Development Center (OARDC) of Wooster, OH; GZA GeoEnvironmental of Cincinnati, OH; and OpenAlgae, LLC of Austin, TX.

Touchstone won an initial award from DOE in 2009 when the agency funded projects from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to determine the feasibility of capturing carbon dioxide from industrial sources for storage or beneficial use, such as conversion to chemicals, plastics, fuels, and building materials. Based upon satisfactory performance in Phase 1, in 2010 Touchstone received a follow-on Phase 2 award to further demonstrate conversion of carbon dioxide emissions into useful products while also reducing emissions and mitigating climate change. Touchstone’s DOE grant is comprised of nearly $6.8 million of ARRA funds and is matched by outside funding of almost $1.7 million.

The nursery uses an advanced coal-burning system from a previous DOE effort to heat its greenhouses. For the algae project, carbon dioxide generated by that system is being pumped into the ponds and serves two purposes — it keeps flue gas carbon dioxide from being released into the environment and it provides algae with carbon dioxide needed for growth.

The project also uses another technology developed by Touchstone exclusively for algae systems — a phase change material that covers a majority of the pond surface to regulate daily temperature, control the infiltration of invasive species, and reduce water evaporation losses.  Touchstone is testing its integrated system in two indoor and two outdoor algae-producing ponds at the nursery.  For each pair, one pond will be covered by the phase change material while the other pond will have no protection and serve as the control.  This four pond system has an annual production capacity of approximately 2,000 gallons of oil to be turned into fuel.

Touchstone’s interest in algae research began with seed money from the state of West Virginia, which awarded the company two Phase 0 awards of $5000 each to enable the research facility to write award-winning Small Business Innovation Research proposals to the National Science Foundation and DOE. From that impetus Touchstone attracted funding from the State of Ohio Coal Development Office to match DOE monies for its demonstration project in Wooster.

Dr. Philip Lane, Touchstone’s Director of Business Development and the Program Manager for this project, explained that this Touchstone’s algae-production technology is also combined with OARDC’s anaerobic digestion procedure of creating biogas (methane) from organic materials such as manure and food-processing waste inside a biodigester.  Organic waste and the residual algae biomass and combined and the mixture is converted to biogas; turning undesirable materials into further renewable energy.  OARDC’s Professor Yebo Li discovered that the nutrient-rich liquid effluent remaining after a biodigester is done turning waste into methane can be recovered and recycled back into the algae ponds to help grow algae.  Thus Dr. Li is growing algae in his lab using the liquid effluent, perfecting a formula that will be tested in the field.

Dr. Lane said that Touchstone’s operation of the pilot plant will determine the operating costs and yields from the biomass and fuel. Touchstone hopes the pilot plant will attract investors to license the technology to others in the algae industry with the prospect that the production process will be adopted to provide energy savings and to reduce water usage. The aim is to reduce costs enough to make the algae industry competitive with petroleum fuels.

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