United States Patent: 8470584

We have reported on the Algae-based Carbon Dioxide utilization interests of Professor David Bayless, at Ohio University, previously, as in our report of:

Ohio Improves CO2 Bio-Recycling | Research & Development | News; concerning: "Carbon Dioxide Mitigation Through Controlled Photosynthesis; Authors: Dr. David Bayless, et. al. (Ohio University); Date: October, 2000; OSTI ID: 795267; USDOE Contract Number: FG26-99FT40592; Abstract: This research was undertaken to meet the need for a robust portfolio of carbon management options to ensure continued use of coal in electrical power generation.

 

In response to this need, the Ohio Coal Research Center at Ohio University developed a novel technique to control the emissions of CO2 from fossil-fired power plants by growing organisms capable of converting CO2 to complex sugars through the process of photosynthesis. Once harvested, the organisms could be used in the production of fertilizer, as a biomass fuel, or fermented to produce alcohols. In this work, a mesophilic organism, Nostoc 86-3, was examined with respect to the use of thermophilic algae to recycle CO2 from scrubbed stack gases. The organisms were grown on stationary surfaces to facilitate algal stability and promote light distribution. ... (Results) indicate that high lighting levels are not suitable for this organism, as bleaching occurs and growth rates are inhibited. Similarly, the organisms do not respond well to extended lighting durations, requiring a significant (greater than eight hour) dark cycle on a consistent basis. Other results indicate a relative insensitivity to CO2 levels between 7-12% and CO levels as high as 800 ppm. Other significant results alluded to previously, relate to the development of the overall process. Two processes developed during the year offer tremendous potential to enhance process viability. First, integration of solar collection and distribution technology from Oak Ridge laboratories could provide a significant space savings and enhanced use of solar energy. Second, the use of (known) technology could both enhance organism growth rates and make the process one that could be applied at any fossil-fired power generation unit".

We highlighted the above passage concerning the USDOE's Oak Ridge, Tennessee, National Laboratory since we have reported on their Algal CO2-to-Fuel technologies previously; as for one example in:

USDOE Algae Recycle More CO2 and Produce Ethanol | Research & Development | News; concerning: "United States Patent 7,973,214 - Designer Organisms for Photosynthetic Production of Ethanol from Carbon Dioxide and Water; 2011; Inventor: James Weifu Lee, TN; Assignee: UT-Battelle, LLC, Oak Ridge (USDOE Oak Ridge, Tennessee, National Laboratory); Abstract: The present invention provides a revolutionary photosynthetic ethanol production technology based on designer transgenic plants, algae, or plant cells. The designer plants, designer algae, and designer plant cells are created such that the endogenous photosynthesis regulation mechanism is tamed, and the reducing power and energy acquired from the photosynthetic (processes) are used for immediate synthesis of ethanol directly from carbon dioxide and water";

and, the information we submit in this report has direct bearing on additional Carbon Dioxide utilization technologies developed there, and on technologies that have evolved from work done at the USDOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

By way of further introduction, we remind you of another of our reports concerning the algae-based Carbon Dioxide work undertaken by David Bayless and colleagues at Ohio University:

USDOE Finances Ohio CO2 Recycling | Research & Development | News; concerning: "US Patent Application 20020072109 - Enhanced Practical Photosynthetic CO2 Mitigation; 2002; Inventors: David Bayless, et. al., Ohio; (Ohio University); Abstract: This process is unique in photosynthetic carbon sequestration. An on-site biological sequestration system directly decreases the concentration of carbon-containing compounds in the emissions of fossil generation units. In this process, photosynthetic microbes are attached to a growth surface arranged in a containment chamber that is lit by solar photons. A harvesting system ensures maximum organism growth and rate of CO2 uptake. Soluble carbon and nitrogen concentrations delivered to the cyanobacteria are enhanced, further increasing growth rate and carbon utilization. Government Interests: The U.S. Government has a paid up license in this invention and the right in limited circumstances to require the patent owner to license others on reasonable terms as provided for by the terms of Program Solicitation Number DE-PS26-99FT40613 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy";

the USDOE had become interested enough in his Algae-based Carbon Dioxide-utilization concepts to begin financing his work; and, although we didn't report on it, that United States Patent Application 20020072109 was confirmed by the US Government as valid technology, as seen in:

"United States Patent: 6667171 - Enhanced Practical Photosynthetic CO2 Mitigation

Enhanced practical photosynthetic CO2 mitigation - Ohio University

Patent US6667171 - Enhanced practical photosynthetic CO2 mitigation - Google Patents

Date: December 23, 2003

Inventors: David Bayless, et. al., Ohio

Assignee: Ohio University, Athens, OH

Abstract: This process is unique in photosynthetic carbon sequestration. An on-site biological sequestration system directly decreases the concentration of carbon-containing compounds in the emissions of fossil generation units. In this process, photosynthetic microbes are attached to a growth surface arranged in a containment chamber that is lit by solar photons. A harvesting system ensures maximum organism growth and rate of CO2 uptake. Soluble carbon and nitrogen concentrations delivered to the cyanobacteria are enhanced, further increasing growth rate and carbon utilization.

Government Interests: The U.S. Government has a paid up license in this invention and the right in limited circumstances to require the patent owner to license others on reasonable terms as provided for by the terms of Program Solicitation Number DE-PS26-99FT40613 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy".

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We won't be making separate report of it, but, we believe the above-cited USDOE solicitation resulted in the following report:

http://www.osti.gov/scitech/biblio/888741; "Enhanced Practical Photosynthetic CO2 Mitigation".

And, herein we learn that David Bayless and other of his OU colleagues went on to, much more recently, design an actual "bioreactor", a mechanism and device intended to foster the growth of specific microbes and to further enhance the process of "Practical Photosynthetic CO2 Mitigation".

Comment follows excerpts from the initial link in this dispatch to the fairly recent:

"United States Patent 8,470,584 - Apparatus and Method for Growing Biological Organisms for Fuel and Other Purposes

Patent US8470584 - Apparatus and method for growing biological organisms for fuel and other ... - Google Patents

Apparatus and method for growing biological organisms for fuel and other purposes - Ohio University

Date: June 25, 2013

Inventors: David Bayless, et. al., OH

Assignee: Ohio University, Athens, OH

Abstract: A bioreactor apparatus in which a container has sidewalls, a floor and a ceiling defining a chamber that contains a slurry of water, nutrients and photosynthetic microorganisms. A plurality of optical fibers, each of which has a first end disposed outside the chamber and a second end in the mixture. A light collector spaced from the container has light incident on it and focuses the light onto the first ends of the plurality of optical fibers, thereby permitting the light to be conveyed into the mixture to promote photosynthesis. At least one nozzle is in fluid communication with a source of gas, such as exhaust gas from a fossil-fuel burning power plant containing carbon dioxide. The nozzle is disposed in the mixture beneath the second ends of the optical fibers for injecting the gas into the mixture.

Claims: A bioreactor apparatus comprising:

(a) a container having sidewalls, a floor and a ceiling defining a chamber housing a mixture of liquid growth media and photosynthetic microorganisms;

(b) a plurality of optical fibers, each of the fibers having a first end disposed outside the chamber and a second end disposed in the mixture, the second end having a tip from which a light beam exits the fiber, wherein the tip of the second end of each fiber is the only region of the fiber in the mixture from which a substantial amount of light exits;

(c) a light collector spaced from the container, the light collector having light incident thereon and focusing the light onto the first ends of the plurality of optical fibers; and:

(d) at least one nozzle in fluid communication with a source of gas containing at least carbon dioxide, the nozzle disposed in the mixture beneath the second ends of the optical fibers for injecting the gas into the mixture and causing microorganisms to flow from darker regions spaced from the second ends of the fibers and along sides of fibers to the second ends of the fibers and thereby be exposed to light exiting the second ends of the fibers. 

The bioreactor apparatus ... further comprising a hanger mounted to the container sidewalls and through which the second ends of the optical fibers extend for spacing the second ends of the fibers apart laterally and for stabilizing the fibers (and) wherein said at least one nozzle further comprises a first nozzle disposed at one region of the chamber, and a second nozzle disposed at a second, higher region of the chamber, wherein the first nozzle is below at least some of said second ends of the fibers and the second nozzle is above the first nozzle and below at least some of the second ends of the fibers (and) wherein the hanger maintains the second ends of the fibers at a substantially fixed axial position. 

A method of growing microorganisms, the method comprising:

(a) disposing a liquid growth media and photosynthetic microorganism mixture in a container having sidewalls and a floor defining a chamber;

(b) exposing to light a plurality of first ends of a plurality of light-transmitting fibers, wherein said first ends are outside the chamber;

(c) extending a plurality of second ends of the light-transmitting fibers into the mixture, wherein the second ends have tips that are the only regions of the fibers in the mixture from which a substantial amount of light exits to transmit the light to the chamber, thereby creating light regions in the chamber at the tips of the second ends of the fibers;

(d) disposing a nozzle in the mixture beneath the second ends of the light-transmitting fibers; and:

(e) injecting gas that is at least partially absorbed by the microorganisms, through the nozzle into the mixture, the injected gas causing microorganisms to flow between light regions, which are substantially only near the second ends, and darker regions, which are spaced from the second ends of the fibers and along sides of the fibers. 

The method ...  further comprising disposing a light collector outside the chamber, focusing the light on the first end of said at least one light-transmitting fiber and displacing the light collector to maximize incident light thereon.

(By "displacing the light collector to maximize incident light thereon", we believe they are, in the most general terms, identifying a solar light "collector", which would be designed so that, via "displacing", it would follow the sun as it transits across the sky so as to harvest the maximum available light.)

The method ... further comprising disposing a first nozzle at one region of the chamber, and a second nozzle at a second, higher region of the chamber (and) wherein the step of injecting the gas further comprises displacing the fiber laterally, thereby causing the second end thereof to contact the sidewall (and) the method comprising disposing the container within a housing. 

The bioreactor apparatus ... further comprising a power generating apparatus that has a housing and creates exhaust gas from combustion of fossil fuel, and wherein the container is disposed within the housing. 

The bioreactor ... further comprising:

(a) a plurality of containers having sidewalls, a floor and a ceiling defining a chamber housing a slurry of water and photosynthetic microorganisms, each of said containers disposed within the housing; and:

b) a plurality of nozzles in fluid communication with the exhaust gas, one of said nozzles disposed in each of the containers, the nozzles injecting the exhaust gas into the mixture of a respective container.

Background and Field: This invention relates to an apparatus and a method for growing photosynthetic microorganisms, possibly from exhaust gas containing carbon dioxide. 

It is well known that fossil fuels, such as petroleum-derived fuels and coal, are limited in supply (but) are the largest fuel source for automobiles and energy production facilities. 

Biofuels are derived from recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, but contain different hydrogen and carbon containing molecules than fossil fuels. 

Most biofuels are considered neutral in their release of carbon into the atmosphere, because the living organisms remove carbon from the air, but that carbon is subsequently released during the chemical reaction that produces work from the stored solar energy (and, biofuels) are a renewable energy source, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal, and nuclear fuels. Some biofuels can be grown in a conventional setting, such as a farm field, while others must be grown in unique, controlled settings.

A bioreactor is a vessel in which a chemical process is carried out that involves organisms or biochemically active substances derived from such organisms. Known bioreactors take the exhaust gases of, for example, fossil fuel burning power plants, and use the CO2 therein to "fuel" growth of microalgae and other photosynthetic microorganisms. Such bioreactors prevent carbon from the exhaust gas stream from being released into the air, and produce biofuel therefrom that provides additional energy. Open-pond bioreactor systems have existed for some time, but are unsuitable in many ways, especially for large sources of CO2. 

Microalgae have much faster growth-rates than terrestrial crops. Depending on the bioreactor and the strain, the per unit area yield of oil from algae is estimated to be many times greater than the next best crop, which is palm oil. Algal-oil processes into biodiesel as easily as oil derived from land-based crops.

The difficulties in efficient biodiesel production from algae lie in finding a cost-effective bioreactor that is best suited to a strain of algae that contains sufficient lipids. 

Research into algae for the mass-production of fuel is mainly focused on microalgae, as opposed to macroalgae (seaweed). Microalgae are organisms capable of photosynthesis that are less than 2 mm in diameter. These include the diatoms and cyanobacteria. This preference towards microalgae is due largely to its less complex structure, fast growth rate, and high oil content in some species. 

Despite the scientific advantages of biofuels and the availability of bioreactors that are capable of producing such fuels, economic disadvantages have restricted the extent to which bioreactors have been implemented. For example, one disadvantage of conventional bioreactors is the fact that they become economically feasible only when natural light is used. The ability to expose microorganisms to sufficient natural light is a function of the exposed surface area of conventional bioreactors. Space is not always available where large supplies of CO2 are being produced. Biofuels produced from such bioreactors can only compete with petroleum-based fuels if their production is high enough that economies of scale exist. This is difficult with conventional bioreactors. 

Therefore, the need exists for a bioreactor that makes carbon removal and biofuel production economically feasible enough that it will be adopted by the energy producing industry 

Description and Summary: This invention relates to an apparatus and a method for growing photosynthetic microorganisms, possibly from exhaust gas containing carbon dioxide.

The production of microalgae as a feedstock for refining into biodiesel requires bioreactors that are capable of maximum productivity in minimum space and with minimal artificial light and other energy inputs. Current bioreactor designs are limited to operation during sunlight hours, primarily because their design is entirely predicated on getting light from the outside and having it penetrate by transmission through transparent walls to the algae. A simple economic analysis shows that use of only artificial light is too expensive. However, by not having production during the nighttime hours when no available solar energy, significant productivity is lost.

Biofuels are a renewable energy source, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal, and nuclear fuels. Some biofuels can be grown in a conventional setting, such as a farm field, while others must be grown in unique, controlled settings.

A bioreactor is a vessel in which a chemical process is carried out that involves organisms or biochemically active substances derived from such organisms. Known bioreactors take the exhaust gases of, for example, fossil fuel burning power plants, and use the CO2 therein to "fuel" growth of microalgae and other photosynthetic microorganisms.

Such bioreactors prevent carbon from the exhaust gas stream from being released into the air, and produce biofuel therefrom that provides additional energy. Open-pond bioreactor systems have existed for some time, but are unsuitable in many ways, especially for large sources of CO2. 

Microalgae have much faster growth-rates than terrestrial crops. Depending on the bioreactor and the strain, the per unit area yield of oil from algae is estimated to be many times greater than the next best crop, which is palm oil. Algal-oil processes into biodiesel as easily as oil derived from land-based crops. The difficulties in efficient biodiesel production from algae lie in finding a cost-effective bioreactor that is best suited to a strain of algae that contains sufficient lipids. 

Research into algae for the mass-production of fuel is mainly focused on microalgae, as opposed to macroalgae (seaweed). Microalgae are organisms capable of photosynthesis that are less than 2 mm in diameter. These include the diatoms and cyanobacteria. This preference towards microalgae is due largely to its less complex structure, fast growth rate, and high oil content in some species. 

Despite the scientific advantages of biofuels and the availability of bioreactors that are capable of producing such fuels, economic disadvantages have restricted the extent to which bioreactors have been implemented. For example, one disadvantage of conventional bioreactors is the fact that they become economically feasible only when natural light is used. The ability to expose microorganisms to sufficient natural light is a function of the exposed surface area of conventional bioreactors. Space is not always available where large supplies of CO2 are being produced. Biofuels produced from such bioreactors can only compete with petroleum-based fuels if their production is high enough that economies of scale exist. This is difficult with conventional bioreactors. 

Therefore, the need exists for a bioreactor that makes carbon removal and biofuel production economically feasible enough that it will be adopted by the energy producing industry. 

The bioreactor of the invention addresses significant problems of conventional bioreactor designs. First, the invention uses solar collecting and transmitting features so that photosynthetically active radiation can be delivered to the microalgae at optimal levels. Second, the invention uses a fiber hanger so that light transmission fibers are terminated inside the bioreactor, thereby providing the direct application of light without a separate distribution system. Third, the invention uses an algal slurry to increase productivity over a biofilm system. The circulating slurry uses transport processes to create dark zones that are internal to the bioreactor to provide time for dark reactions, and thus potentially greatly increasing algal productivity. Finally, the light transmission and distribution system permits the bioreactor to be built in the vertical direction, thereby decreasing the structure's space consumption over a pond or raceway cultivator.

Detailed Description: The bioreactor has maximum algal productivity for the purpose of producing a high-lipid feedstock for biodiesel refining. Of course, the algae or other photosynthetic microorganism can be used for other purposes, including, but not limited to, other biofuels, nutrition and carbon sequestration. The bioreactor takes advantage of distributed solar energy to maximize productivity during the daylight, and offers the possibility of employing artificial lighting to increase productivity during times without adequate solar energy. The system also minimizes heat dissipation problems from the fiber optics. 

The bioreactor has many advantageous features. It can take in a gas from many sources and convert it at high rates to other, more desirable gases, with little to no negative environmental impact. Indeed, the environmental impact may be positive, as in the case of carbon sequestration.

As an additional example, the bioreactor can be part of a carbon dioxide recycling system, for example to produce oxygen where it is in short supply. The bioreactor also produces substantial amounts of photosynthetic microorganisms, also with no negative environmental impact. Such organisms can be used for many purposes, such as for animal feed (or) in the gasification of coal to make hydrocarbon wax and jet fuel, and as otherwise noted herein. 

(Concerning the above, see, for only one more recent example, our report of:

Celanese Co-Gasifies Coal and CO2-Recycling Algae | Research & Development | News; which centers on: "US Patent Application 20130144087 - Co-Gasification of Aquatic Biomass and Coal; 2013; Assignee: Celanese International Corporation, Irving, Texas; Abstract: The invention also relates to co-gasification processes for forming syngas from aquatic biomass and a fossil fuel. In one aspect, the invention is to a process for producing syngas, comprising: introducing aquatic biomass, a fossil fuel, water and oxygen to a gasifier and forming syngas comprising hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide; and feeding aquatic biomass with carbon dioxide derived from the syngas. In other aspects, the invention relates to integrated processes for producing industrial chemicals, such as alcohols, carboxylic acids, esters, aldehydes, olefins and polymers from such syngas. Claims: A process for producing syngas, comprising: (a) introducing aquatic biomass, a fossil fuel, water and oxygen to a gasifier and forming syngas comprising hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide; and: (b) feeding aquatic biomass with carbon dioxide derived from the syngas. ... The process ...  wherein the aquatic biomass is selected from the group consisting of microalgae, macroalgae ... .The process ... wherein runoff from the gasifier provides nutrients for the aquatic biomass that is fed with carbon dioxide. ... The process ... wherein the fossil fuel comprises coal".)

In one contemplated embodiment of the invention, a building or other housing is filled with bioreactors similar to the apparatus of the present invention. Thus, a large room contains multiple containers ..., each of which has a bundle of optical fibers leading to an external source of light, such as a collector on the roof of the building.

One or multiple collectors convey solar radiation through the fibers to each of the bioreactors. Each such bioreactor receives a portion of the CO2-laden gas coming from a source, such as a power plant's exhaust stack, and each bioreactor functions as described above to remove CO2 from the gas."

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As we've stated a number of times before, when it comes to the productive recycling of Carbon Dioxide, we, here, prefer more direct chemical processes, like that disclosed for one example in our report of:

USDOE 2009 CO2 to Gasoline | Research & Development | News; which centers on: "United States Patent 7,592,291 - Method of Fabricating a Catalytic Structure; 2009; Assignee: Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC, Idaho Falls, ID (USDOE Idaho National Laboratory); Abstract: A precursor to a catalytic structure (and, a)method of hydrogenating a carbon oxide using the catalytic structure is also disclosed, as is a system that includes the catalytic structure. Government Interests: The United States Government has certain rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. DE-AC07-05ID14517 between the United States Department of Energy and Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC. ... Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) may be converted into liquid fuels such as, for example, hydrocarbon molecules of between about 5 and about 12 carbon atoms per molecule (e.g., gasoline) through multi-step reactions".

However, as we have seen and as we will see in additional reports to follow, the use of algae and related micro-critters, like "cyanobacteria", for the consumption and use of Carbon Dioxide, as we might reclaim from "a power plant's exhaust stack", can enable the rather direct production of specific chemicals and fuels, such as the "Ethanol" of our above-cited report concerning: "United States Patent 7,973,214 - Designer Organisms for Photosynthetic Production of Ethanol from Carbon Dioxide and Water". And, the value of such options for the productive use of Carbon Dioxide shouldn't, we feel, shouldn't be ignored.

In coming reports we'll see further how algae and cyanobacteria can be used to manufacture specific products of high value from Carbon Dioxide, within the environments of what are often generically referred to as, just, "bioreactors", or, "photo-bioreactors", and similar.  

The Disclosure of our subject herein, "United States Patent 8,470,584 - Apparatus and Method for Growing Biological Organisms for Fuel and Other Purposes", provides specific example and detailed description of at least one such device.


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