A start-up high-tech facility in southwest Iowa is beginning to fill new jobs in a new type of industry, with its roots in ethanol production. Gregg Connell, executive vice president of the Shenandoah Chamber and Industry Association, says construction is expected to begin within the next month on a project where algae will be grown and harvested for multiple uses, utilizing byproducts from the making of ethanol.
Connell says the head scientist is a Harvard graduate and the CEO is a Wharton School of Business graduate and more engineers and scientists are being added to the team. Officials with BioProcess Algae, of Rhode Island, haven’t disclosed how many jobs will be created with the new Shenandoah facility, but they reportedly have between 25- and 60-million dollars to launch and develop the operation. Connell says the hirings will be "significant," but wouldn’t offer any numbers.
He says the company will bring many people to relocate to southwest Iowa. The process involves producing algae using carbon dioxide waste from an ethanol plant — which is a new concept. Connell says expectations are high since scientists in Rhode Island have continuously been producing algae in a bio-reactor system for about eight months.
"When you say ‘continuously,’ that’s extremely important," Connell says, "That’s one of the tough things about growing algae. How do you harvest it without having to kill it? The science behind this is just incredible and we’re in a great position to lead the field of algae research and development."
Once the facility is built, he says the team will move from a one-ton system to five-tons to a 50-ton system within a year. The algae can have all sorts of applications, from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics, in addition to animal feed and biodiesel fuel. Connell says there is much growth potential with the program.
"We’re excited about the huge possibilities with algae and we’re also excited about the stimulus package which contains about 15-billion dollars for renewable energy projects," Connell says. "We have just applied for a grant for another two-million dollars which will allow us to move forward even quicker, maybe with an even-larger team." The facility is expected to cover between 90 and 300 acres in Shenandoah.
He says with the bioreactor system, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will be captured instead of being dumped into the air, and it’ll be used with waste water from the cooling towers to grow "incredible masses" of algae, perhaps 200 tons per acre.
Connell says the algae idea is outstanding for biodiesel, as one acre of soybeans produces about 66 gallons of biodiesel, while an acre of algae is expected to produce up to 15,000 gallons of the fuel.