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2009 July 10

Dow Chemical announces project to harvest ethanol from algae

Dow Chemical is joining forces with a small start-up company to build thousands of bioreactors that will use algae to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol.

The US chemicals company is partnering with Florida-based Algenol Biofuels to create a massive demonstration site at a Dow facility in Texas which both companies hope will allow them to produce the alternative fuel cheaply and in a more environmentally friendly way, the New York Times reports.

“We give them the oxygen, we get very pure carbon dioxide, and the output is very cheap ethanol,” Algenol Biofuels CEO Paul Woods told the newspaper. The algae is grown in bioreactors consisting of plastic-covered troughs filled with saltwater saturated with carbon dioxide. The algae then convert the carbon dioxide and water into ethanol, oxygen and water. Dow, which will supply the plastic which covers the troughs, hopes the venture will yield a source of hydrocarbons for use in the manufacturing of plastics.

The company is also looking at ethanol derived from Brazilian sugar cane as a substitute for natural gas in the production of plastics. Other actors in the Dow-Algenol project include the Georgia Institute of Technology and Membrane Technology and Research, which will both work on improving the separation of the ethanol from the oxygen and water. The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will also participate by looking at the impact of carbon dioxide sources on the algae.

Read the full story here.