OriginOil Announces 'Milking' Algae Technology Breakthrough


Los Angeles based OriginOil has made several major announcements during the past few weeks including a patent filing for its Dynamic Control System, and its application for a Patent Cooperation Treaty for low-energy, high-efficiency algae production. Now, they have announced a breakthrough process for Live Algae Extraction, coined ‘milking’ which is a complicated way to say that they can continually extract the oil from algae without killing the cells.

This new ‘milking’ process is an addition to the company’s Cascading Production technique which is a combined cycle that turns algae to fuel more efficiently, economically and cost competitively when compared to petroleum.

Live Extraction, or milking, is inherently efficient because it achieves continuous production of algae oil without destroying the algae cell. Therefore a single algae cell can produce more oil during its lifetime using lower amounts of energy. Unlike other approaches to live extraction, OriginOil’s process does not employ expensive consumables such as reverse osmosis membranes; furthermore, it is not limited to oil-bearing algae strains that are known to excrete algae oil naturally.

“Live Extraction works by stimulating the algae cells through specific electrical modulations,” Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil’s CEO, said. “The challenge is how to keep the cells alive while continuously extracting the oil, and we have achieved this.”

Algae protect their oil behind a tough cell wall (imagine the Berlin Wall and then penetrating that wall without damaging it). The challenge of live extraction is to harvest the oil without causing permanent damage to the cell. This goal has been achieved in the laboratory and is now being scaled up to OriginOil’s intermediate 200-gallon tank size.

“We are pleased with the results we are getting from conventional harvesting,” said Vikram Pattarkine, PhD, OriginOil’s CTO. “We expect the new Live Extraction process to coexist with our daily ‘destructive’ process to create an even more efficient combined cycle.”

Aside from any production gains, combining the two processes is desirable because algae cultures must be refreshed regularly to remove waste toxins. Cascading Production supports Live Extraction by removing a percentage of the culture every day, refreshing the environment and giving the algae culture space to grow.

The company recently filed for its ninth patent. “Procedure for Extraction of Lipids from Algae without Cell Sacrifice”.

Following Exxon Mobil’s recent announcement of a $600 million investment in San Diego- based Synthetic Genomics, Paul Reep, senior technical adviser and one of the inventors, noted: “Live lipid extraction is especially beneficial when used with algae that have been genetically engineered for faster growth rate or higher lipid yields. By integrating Live Extraction into our process, we are providing a technology platform for companies like Synthetic Genomics that are experimenting with genetic improvements.”

Joanna Schroeder

Joanna is a writer and consultant specializing in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture issues.