12 December 2007
Royal Dutch Shell plc and HR Biopetroleum announced the construction of a pilot facility in Hawaii to grow marine algae and produce vegetable oil for conversion into biofuel. Algae hold great promise as a non-food, sustainable biofuel feedstock—said Shell—because they grow very rapidly, are rich in vegetable oil and can be cultivated in ponds of seawater, minimizing the use of fertile land and fresh water.
Shell and HR Biopetroleum have formed a joint venture company, called Cellana, to develop this project, with Shell taking the majority share. Construction of the demonstration facility on the Kona coast of Hawaii Island will begin immediately. The site, leased from the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), is near existing commercial algae enterprises, primarily serving the pharmaceutical and nutrition industries.
The facility will grow non-modified, marine microalgae species in open air ponds using proprietary technology. Algae strains used will be indigenous to Hawaii or approved by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Once the algae are harvested, the vegetable oil will be extracted. The facility’s small production volumes will be used for testing.
An academic research program will support the project, screening natural microalgae species to determine which ones produce the highest yields and the most vegetable oil. The program will include scientists from the Universities of Hawaii, Southern Mississippi and Dalhousie, Nova Scotia, Canada.
An advantage of algae is their rapid growth. They can double their mass several times a day and produce at least 15 times more oil per hectare than alternatives such as rape, palm, soya or jatropha. Moreover, facilities can be built on coastal land unsuitable for conventional agriculture. Over the long term, algae cultivation facilities also have the potential to capture waste CO2 directly from industrial facilities such as power plants. The Cellana demonstration will use bottled CO2 to explore this potential.