The coast of south Texas, near South Padre Island, will be the site of the nation's first commercial-scale, open-pond algae farm for the production of oil for biodiesel feedstock.
PetroSun Biofuels Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of PetroSun Inc., began cleaning the site near the cities of Harlingen and Rio Hondo in preparation for operations to begin in April.
The farm is located on the site of a former shrimp farm, according to Jim LeCrone, chief operating officer of PetroSun Biofuels. The facility currently has 94 five-acre and 63 10-acre ponds for a total of 1,100 acres of growing space on the 1,831-acre site. "The farm will give us a step into immediate large-scale production and extraction of algal oil," LeCrone said. "It will be like a giant pilot plant for us, showing us how to do this on a much larger scale." The open-pond system will use salt water, which implies a marine species of algae, but LeCrone wouldn't confirm that.
PetroSun Biofuels has also entered a deal to acquire half the interest of Fleet Biodiesel Inc., a company that is buying an 82.5 percent stake in Bridgeport, Ala.-based Eagle Biodiesel Inc. Eagle Biodiesel owns a biodiesel plant, port access to the Tennessee River, a five-truck tanker fleet and a retail biodiesel fuel station. PetroSun plans to expand the plant's capacity to more than 50 MMgy. As part of the deal, PetroSun will provide algae oil to the Bridgeport plant, and some of the algae oil produced in Texas may end up in Bridgeport, LeCrone said. "[Eagle Biofuels is] using a different type of feedstock right now, but in the long term, that is a possibility," he said. "We are building a facility in Coolidge, Ariz., and that will also be a customer. We are also talking with potential customers in Louisiana."
LeCrone said tests conducted at PetroSun Biofuels' pilot algae farm in Opelika, Ala., showed oil production between 5,000 and 8,000 gallons per acre per year. He said challenges with extracting the algae from the water and the oil from the algae were overcome at the pilot facility. "All of the technology was developed at Opelika over the past year," he said. "We have a process that is totally different than what anyone else has been doing." After extraction, the residual algae biomass can be made into ethanol or other products.
The company will extract the oil in Texas using a proprietary process, and ship the oil by truck, rail or barge to company-owned or joint-venture biodiesel production facilities. "We can ship by land, sea or rail, so this site is pretty nice that way," LeCrone said. PetroSun will be conducting jet fuel and bioplastics research and development projects supported by the supply of oil from the operation.