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Algae biodiesel plant (Photo: Oil Fox S.A.)

First biodiesel plant in Latin America opens

Click on the flag for more information about Argentina ARGENTINA
Monday, August 30, 2010, 23:30 (GMT + 9)

Argentina's first factory to make bio-diesel from algae has opened its doors, with the aim of using this product as a replacement for soy in making bio-diesel as part of a push for renewable energy.

Argentina is the world's top exporter of soy-oil, but using the edible oil to make fuel is controversial because it cuts into food supplies.

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Oil extracted from algae is also seen as an attractive alternative to soy-oil and other vegetable oils because it does not need land that could be used for food crops and can absorb carbon dioxide from power plants or factories, reports Mercopress.

The oil-extraction process also produces a protein-rich paste, which is edible.

“We're not competing with the food supply but generating food, at a low cost and helping the environment since algae grow fast and trap carbon dioxide” said Jorge Kaloustian, president of Oil Fox S.A., the company that owns the plant northeast of Buenos Aires.

The Oil Fox plant's feedstock is currently 90 per cent soy-oil and 10 per cent algae oil, but the company hopes to eventually depend entirely on algae, which can grow in seawater and even contaminated water.

The algae, which is grown in tanks inside greenhouses, produces a green oil in the photosynthesis process. It grows fast and can duplicate its weight several times a day.

“Algae can get a much higher yield per acre than say soybeans,” said John Williams, spokesman for the Algal BioMASS Association, a trade organisation that groups companies involved with developing algae bio-fuels. “It can produce more than ten times more fuel per acre than soybeans.”

Some researchers say algae-based fuel would be too costly to produce commercially, but plants that use algae oil have sprouted everywhere, from Australia to China as companies bet on growing demand for renewable fuels.

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Exxon Mobil Corp last year announced a 600 million US dollars investment over the next five years to develop bio-fuel from algae.

Kaloustian said the new Oil Fox biodiesel plant is the first of its kind in Latin America, and that it is cost effective, partly because the electricity it uses is generated from biogas that comes from sewage waste and compost is fed to the algae to encourage growth.

Through a deal with a JP Morgan-owned company, the carbon dioxide emissions that are pumped into the algae greenhouses from a nearby power plant will eventually be sold as bonds in the carbon market, Kaloustian said.

Oil Fox has also signed an agreement with YPF, Argentina’s biggest energy firm, to produce 50,000 tonnes of bio-diesel per year. Under Argentine law, energy companies will have to blend diesel with 10 percent bio-diesel by year's end. 

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