Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tour of the CEHMM Algae Biorefinery in Artesia, NM


Executive director Doug Lynn standing by one of his algae test ponds. He uses this to test different species of algae. 

The CEHMM facility (Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management) is an algae biorefinery located in Artesia, NM. On April 19, 2010 CEHMM became the world’s first fully integrated algae refinery with the ability to operate at more than 1,000 gallons per day throughput. For perspective, consider that one outdoor hot tub that seats two adults takes about 200 gallons to fill, so 1,000 gallons would fill approximately five of those hot tubs.

Algae can produce up to 300 times more oil per acre than other conventional crops such as soybeans, jatropha, grapeseed, or palm. Algae is very productive due to its ability to produce several crops in a short time frame. This is fairly easy to understand considering how fast algae can overpopulate a pond or pool if left untreated! Though it seems a nuisance to communities or pool owners, for biofuel producers it could be the answer to our high dependence on foreign fossil fuel.



This is an old paddlewheel algae pond that was used in the original National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) algae program that ended in 1996. The current green energy project at CEHMM is opening new doors for developing clean and renewable sources for energy. Biofuels such as algae could lower our dependence on foreign oil supplies and preserve our environment by reducing the outflow of hazardous materials that occurs in the petroleum industry.


New Mexico has been identified as an ideal place for algae propagation because of its plentiful sunlight, warm temperatures, and little topographic relief. During the winter months, The solar panel above was used as an experimental pond warmer. 


CEHMM is researching biofuel production in the areas of prorogation, harvesting, and extracting oil from the brine (species that tolerates water saturated with salt) and freshwater algae. The algae tank above is used to grow experimental algae species. If the results are promising, the algae is moved to a larger, swimming pool sized tank.


This is one of the large CEHMM algae ponds. The water is kept agitated by a paddle wheel so that the algae will grow throughout the whole pond. The algae usually takes a couple of weeks to grow and will multiply rapidly once it’s started. Algae requires only sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients to complete the processes of photosynthesis necessary for the production of bio-oils. Due to the algae’s quick production and growth in areas not suitable for other agricultural crops, algae stands as a very possible answer in our quest for renewable energy.

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