Photo credit: NREL
I was excited to see cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) featured in a recent energy-related article in the News and Observer. Asheville entrepreneur aims to harness cyanobacteria’s photosynthetic prowess details the work of Phytonix, an Asheville-based company that has engineered cyanobacteria to use carbon dioxide and sunlight to produce n-butanol instead of sugar! According to the article, “current methods of producing butanol use petroleum as a feedstock and emit carbon dioxide in the process. Because the Phytonix approach uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock, it removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
Thus, in addition to producing biofuels, these microscopic photosynthetic organisms also serve to capture carbon from the atmosphere or other concentrated source. The scientist behind Phytonix, Bruce Dannenberg, is said to envision his “facilities being located near sources of carbon dioxide, such as ethanol refineries, oil and gas production plants, cement factories or breweries.” And power companies like Duke Energy are also turning to photosynthesis and exploring technologies to capture CO2 from the flue gas of coal-fired power plants.
There is an algae-based system for CO2 capture at Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant (a coal-fired power plant) located in Kentucky along the Ohio River. This project is a collaboration between the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and the University of Kentucky Department of Biosystems and Agriculture Engineering. According to Duke Energy, “while the primary focus of the project is to demonstrate how to use algae to reduce CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants, the project also focuses upon studying the production of biofuels and other bioproducts from the algae to demonstrate the economic feasibility of using algae to capture CO2.”
A two part video about algae CO2 capture and this Duke Energy project was produced by the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research and Reveal: University of Kentucky Research Media:
Algae CO2 Capture Part 1: How it Works (5 minutes)
Algae CO2 Capture Part 2: Imagining the Future (5 minutes)
A Photo Gallery is also available.
Here is some additional reading related to Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant photobioreactor:
CO2 recycling using microalgae for the production of fuels, March 2014
This article from the journal Applied Petrochemical Research describes the demonstration project at Duke Energy’s East Bend Power Plant.
Duke, UK use algae to eat CO2 and make new stuff, Nov 8, 2013
This article is not available in full but this link includes access to a 1 minute video titled “Algae Eat Emissions at East Bend Power Plant.”
CAER Scientists, Duke Energy Demonstrate Algae-Based Carbon-Capture System, Nov 2013
This article is from University of Kentucky News.
Ky. power station to implement algae carbon capture project, Dec 2011
This article is from Biodiesel Magazine.