OriginOil cleans water and energizes algae
by Irwin Rapoport
With the growing worldwide demand for energy, research
is ongoing to secure oil and gas from alternative sources
that are environmentally-friendly and utilize waste resources.
OriginOil, Inc., based in Los Angeles, is developing
proprietary technologies to create innovative surface-mounted
systems to treat wastewater and produce algae that would
produce renewable oil.
“The new system helps pursue clean water goals while
generating algae for fuel and other valuable products
in wastewater treatment plants,” said Dr. Vikram Pattarkine,
OriginOil’s chief scientist. “We want to utilize all
types of waste resources in terms of carbon dioxide,
nutrients and energy to create biomass. The fastest growing
biomass that we know of is algae. It doesn’t require
fresh or potable water and, because it can use wastewater,
it does not compete with other uses for water, such as
irrigation. Algae can grow in marginal and brackish water
and can also be grown on wasteland.”
OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry stressed that previous
attempts at using surface-mounted algae were not very
“Our Attached Growth System delivers scalability and
throughput in an industrial process that delivers light
more efficiently to grow algae for fuel and helps process
wastewater at the same time,” he said.
The company recently filed for patent protection of the
new Attached Growth System (AGS), its ninth patent application,
titled Methods and Apparatus for Growing Algae on a Solid
Surface. OriginOil will integrate the process into the
demonstration algae system now being built at its headquarters.
Pattarkine said that growing algae in water is a challenge
because as it grows, the algae thickens and stops light.
“One solution is OriginOil’s Helix Bioreactor™, which
puts the lights inside the tank,” he said. “Another method
is to rotate the algae periodically out of the water
so it can be exposed to the light. The AGS uses types
of algae that will attach to surfaces rotating in and
out of the water, exposing the algae to sunlight or artificial
light. At harvest time, the algae is scraped off as sludge,
greatly decreasing the energy cost of dewatering during
“In wastewater treatment plants, the AGS can be configured
to encourage both algae and bacterial growth,” he added.
“Combining algal and bacterial growth makes for better
nutrient extraction than either one of them alone, contributing
to clean water goals while also making fuel and absorbing
CO2. We recently demonstrated in our cost analysis at
the National Algae Association in Houston that algae
can be far more profitable when located in wastewater
treatment environments. This technology will multiply
Algae, said Pattarkine, is the fastest photo-synthetic
organism and that photosynthesis involves the combination
of CO2 and water to produce glucose, which is the key
to further biochemical reactions. Nutrients to promote
algae growth include nitrogen, phosphorous and minute
amounts of metals such as iron.
“Global warming is a real issue and we want to look at
dealing with CO2 in a reasonable fashion,” he said. “We
want to get rid of it – and since there is plenty of
it available, if you can utilize wastewater simultaneously,
you have a winner.”
The company is in the process of building a pilot scale
plant at its facility in Los Angeles – equipment that
can be shipped by trailer to various sites in a city
or easily transported around the world.
“Commercial and large scale units are probably a couple
of years away,” said Pattarkine. “Our systems can be
used anywhere in the world and will be piloted in Japan
and India. Utilizing wastewater is very appealing in
India and we are working there to develop large scale
The company said the technology, when fully developed,
can be used anywhere in the world and the production
process can be adjusted for regional differences.
“The advantages are that you have a huge quantity of
water, and algae also requires a huge amount of water,”
said Pattarkine. “In order to get 1 ton of algae, you
need to process nearly 1,000 tons of water. Wastewater
treatment plants have that water-handling capacity. By
retrofitting plants to remove the nutrients from wastewater
to produce algae, we can also eliminate the costly tertiary
stage of wastewater treatment. This will also prevent
phosphates from ending up in lakes, rivers and bays such
as San Francisco Bay, which provide critical wildlife
The water used for algae production can be reused repeatedly,
which means that it does not have to be replaced.
Pattarkine also noted that first and second generation
biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel which use corn,
soybeans, and sugarcane, compete with food production,
which has had negative impacts on food supplies and prices.
He added that the current oil and gas refinery energy
model is now cost-effective because it does not account
for all of the costs, such as CO2 emissions, global warming,
and environmental damage.
“Future generations will have to pay for that and if
we want to have a sustainable model for our energy use,
that model will have to change,” said Pattarkine.