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Biofuel Breakdown: Algae, Biomass, Waste

While two joint ventures work on making fuel from waste, one company develops technology to harvest algae at its oiliest. But one analyst says the commercialization of these new technologies could prove a challenge.

Written by Jeff St. John

Everyone's heard of making fuel from biomass, but how about from hazardous waste?

That's the plan from Tinton Falls, N.J.-based

ForeverGreen Enterprises

and Celebration, Fla.-based

International Power Group Ltd.

, which this week announced a joint venture to build a $227 million plant in Indiana that will turn industrial, chemical and medical waste into methanol and hydrogen.

By late 2010, the LaFontaine, Ind., plant will process up to 750 tons of waste into ethanol, biodiesel and electricity, the companies announced.

ForeverGreen, which will own 75 percent of the plant, will contribute its technology to break down the waste to the molecular level.

The International Power Group, which will own 25 percent of the plant, will provide technology to convert the heat generated by the plant into energy, which will in turn help power the plant.

The companies also said they expect more plants to come, but gave no specifics. Aside from the biofuel plant, ForeverGreen also is raising money for a $100 million plant to make hydrogen from waste.


Ensyn Corp.



, a

Honeywell International Inc.

(HON) - Get Free Report

subsidiary, on Wednesday announced they're also forming a joint venture.

The venture, expected to be finalized in the fourth quarter of this year, plans to develop technology and equipment to convert forest and agricultural wastes to pyrolysis oil, also known as bio-oil, a tar-like substance that can be burned for power and heating applications. Advocates hope bio-oil, currently used in food additives, could replace some petroleum products.

The joint venture plans to use Ensyn's "rapid thermal-processing" technology, which the company claims can convert biomass to liquid in less than two seconds, to convert the waste to bio-oil. Using bio-oil to make transportation fuel requires further synthesis, and the two companies said they plan to research "next-generation" technologies to commercialize this process as well.

Not all biofuel companies are content to use waste.

Newark, N.J.-based

International Energy Inc.

said Wednesday that it had developed a technology to quickly determine the content of oil and other valuable materials in microalgae.

That could be valuable for companies looking for a commercially viable way to convert algae to biofuel, as determining when to harvest the plant at its maximum oil production remains a challenge.

How valuable these various biofuel developments will be will depend on whether they aid in making their respective technologies commercially viable, said Rick Kment, a biofuels analyst at DTN Research.

"A lot of these work well in the lab, and some of them seem to work well in pilot-type projects," he said. "But until they get to a commercial setting, it's hard to say how effective and cheap they will be."

Companies seeking to make biofuel from algae, for instance, have struggled with cost-effective ways to grow the plants and extract their oil content, Kment said.

While some have claimed progress toward delivering fuel products at low enough cost to serve the market's needs, others have faced setbacks.

Similar challenges exist for converting pyrolysis oil to a usable transportation fuel, he said, although the unprocessed oil is useful in industries including cosmetics and food processing.

Still, the search for commercially viable alternative feedstocks to produce biofuels is ramping up amid concerns that directing larger volumes of crops like corn and soybeans toward ethanol and biodiesel production may harm the environment and drive up the price of food.

In a biofuel development along more tried and true lines, the San Francisco Port Commission on Tuesday approved

Darling International's

(DAR) - Get Free Report

plan to build a biodiesel refinery at Pier 92. The biodiesel plant will be able to produce up to 10 million gallons per year using processed animal fats, used cooking oils and grease from Darling's existing rendering plant.

The plant could be the first biodiesel refinery in San Francisco and a fuel source for the city's fleet of 1,500 biodiesel vehicles. Darling plans to spend $7 million to $10 million to convert its rendering facility into the refinery.

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