Algae: It’s a burgeoning biofuel, a handy ingredient in cosmetics, and a nutritious addition to food. One day, it might be used to generate heat in your apartment, with a little help from a toilet flush or some running water.
OriginOil, a company that is developing technology to convert algae to crude oil, is the mastermind behind the plan. The company recently teamed up with waste-to-energy startup Ennesys to bring its Algae Appliance—a chemical-free algae harvester—to a building complex in Paris as part of a plan to test an urban algae production system that can both filter water and generate energy.
Why Paris? France has strict building mandates that go "way beyond LEED requirements," explains OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckleberry. By 2020, all new buildings in the country have to be net energy positive, meaning they produce more energy than they consume. This makes France a natural fit for the technology, which is intended to prove to developers that algae is a viable energy solution—and that it won’t leak out of its tanks and make a mess.
"In the pilot, we will have a series of tubes, a compact harvester that turns the algae into concentrate, and a hydroconversion test rig that will gasify the algae and create methane," says Eckleberry. The natural gas won’t be piped into a building during the pilot, but it could be.
Eckleberry imagines that eventually algae could grow on rooftops and the side of building walls. The green stuff could then be turned into energy in the building’s basement. In the process, the algae might be used to absorb toxins and impurities from water.
OriginOil has produced crude oil from algae in the lab, but has yet to make it work on a larger scale. In the meantime, natural gas will have to suffice. And that may be good enough for France.