Low-cost leader Aquatic Energy first came to wider attention this spring when unveiling details of its demo stage project as well as sharing data from its first-gen efforts with an open-pod algal biomass pilot.

The company said at the time it is preparing to expand from a “couple of acre” pilot in Lake Charles, to an 30-acre demonstration project that will feature the company’s 1-acre open-pond system that is yielding 2500 gallons per acre without using an external CO2 source.

CEO David Johnston said that the company is able to support its yields with more than 70 percent of its CO2 coming from ambient CO2 in the atmosphere, with the remainder generated from the natural gas burned in the last stage of the algae drying process. The company said it is generating 32-34 tons per acre of algae biomass for the animal feed market, with a goal of 40 tons of meal per acre in the proposed expansion.

The company said it has funds identified to take it through the demonstration phase, but expects to raise $32 million for a 617-acre commercial-scale expansion, which will generate 1.5 Mgy in algal fuel and 24,500 tons of algae meal.

Johnston said that the 617 (250 hectare) acre size is the minimum scale necessary for a stand-alone operation. The company projects that it will reach 5000 hectares in production by 2016.

Johnston, a veteran of the Maryland biodiesel business, said he selected Louisiana because its rainfall exceeded its evaporation rate, giving him access to free water, plus the wide availability of lands formerly used in rice cultivation, which has the clay soil base, low cost and zoning and infrastructure for aquaculture.

“Water is the biggest factor,” he commented on the site selection process for open ponds. Interestingly, the use of clay soils allows the venture to proceed without using fixed structures or plastic liners on its ponds. Algae-to-energy pioneer John Benemann has commented on the impracticality of plastic liners, with cheap liners requiring too much repair and expensive liners making open-pond projects economically unfeasible.

Johnston also commented that he had looked at several alternative states that had extensive salt-water resources, but that no state environmental agency had seriously entertained permitting a project that would have the potential to leach extensive amounts of salt water into the soil.