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PHYCO2 (Robert Morgan, CTO) and MSU researchers (Dr. Yan (Susie) Liu, Assistant Professor and Tony Zhong, graduate student at the department of Biosysems and Agricultural Engineering) begin the inoculation process of adding an algae culture to the APBs, located in the back room. Photo courtesy of Dr. Wei Liao, MSU

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from T.B. Simon Power Plant


Feb. 26, 2016 

A new initiative to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is underway at the T.B. Simon Power Plant. An organization known as PHYCO2 has partnered with Michigan State University (MSU) Infrastructure Planning and Facilities (IPF) Power and Water and the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) to research a technology that recycles carbon dioxide emissions to accelerate the growth of algae.

PHYCO2 specializes in accelerated algae growth using a system called an Algae Photobioreactor (APB). This algae growth process reduces carbon dioxide and releases increased oxygen back into the atmosphere through the emissions stacks. The selected algae by Dr. Susie Liu’s, assistant professor, BAE, research group can efficiently accumulate a large quantity of proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, and then be used in other industries, including fertilizer and food production, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

How it works

Two PHYCO2 APBs were installed in the power plant in a sound resistant, insulated, temperature controlled test chamber with a sample line from the boiler stacks providing exhaust gas to mass flow meters to control how much carbon dioxide is imported. Water is piped in and the APBs use high intensity light-emitting diodes in place of sunlight. The system is fully automated and has a control panel for overall operations. Once the algae grows to maximum capacity, a water and algae slurry is pumped into a centrifuge where water is extracted from the biomass.

The algal biomass slurry is removed from the centrifuge, dried and sent to various locations where it may be tested, used for research or incorporated into other industrial processes. Throughout the project, three different types of algae will be tested to see which strain grows the most efficiently and how to best optimize growth, allowing for PHYCO2 to modify research variables during the project, in turn assisting MSU in reducing as much carbon dioxide as possible.

A practical space

MSU’s power plant is ideal to facilitate this research based on its varied equipment, operations and the ability to incorporate new systems. This research requires “very specific equipment – not typical power plant equipment,” remarked Nate Verhanovitz, IPF power and water engineer/architect and main power plant contact for the project.

With the strong industry-university collaboration, the integration of the patented PHYCO2’s reactor and MSU’s selected algal strains could lead to a soon-commercially-available solution to sequester CO2 and produce high value chemicals.  Co-locating the APB with the power plant allows the process to utilize waste heat from the power plant to dry and process the produced algae to further improve the energy balance.

“We are confident that this partnership between MSU and PHYCO2 will address the global warming challenge issued by the White House,” said Bill Clary, CEO, PHYCO2. “The unique algal cultivation system developed by the team represents the future of cleaner emissions and the first CO2 capture technology that truly is market sustainable.”

Additional benefits

Algae are also good at absorbing nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen.

“The studied algal cultivation system could also be used to treat organic wastewaters such as animal wastewater and municipal wastewater to remove nutrients and reclaim water,” hypothesized Dr. Wei Liao, director of the MSU anaerobic digestion research and education center.

“MSU has always been on the forefront of cutting edge research and development.  Our collaborative work with developers fits MSU’s research agenda to solve the world’s problems – in this case, reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant.

The APBs began running continuously in November. The project is expected to continue through spring 2016.

Algae growing in the APB.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Wei Liao, MSU.