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Start-up goes fishing for biofuels

LiveFuels to grow algae in its natural environment and harvest the oil from the fish that eat it. The harvested oil could fuel cars and trucks, the company says.

LiveFuels lets aquatic life do the work when it comes to converting algae into oil.

LiveFuels, an algae biofuel start-up, announced a pilot project on Thursday to grow and harvest algae biofuels in open waters with the help of naturally occurring activities in the ecosystem.

The approach is different than other attempts at algae biofuels, in which algae is grown and harvested in a closed environment.

The LiveFuels algae pilot farm, set to cover 45 acres of saltwater ponds in Brownsville, Texas, will consist of algae already native to the region.

Algae is known to bloom in salt water that has been polluted by the lakes, rivers, and streams that feed into it and are tainted with agricultural chemical waste runoff.

Algae blooms, when in excess seen as due to the oxygen-depleting "dead zones" they create, will actually be purposely replicated in LiveFuels' 45-acre test area to determine if these commonly occurring blooms from pollution could be harnessed for biofuels.

The company plans to encourage algae growth with the additive of agricultural-waste products. Then, instead of retrieving the algae itself to be converted into biofuels through a mechanical process, it plans to let algae-eating fish do the conversion.

Once the algae-eating fish plump enough, LiveFuels plans to catch them and process them for their oil in the same way people used to harvest whale blubber for oil. Only instead of using the oil for lamps, this harvested oil could fuel cars and trucks, according to LiveFuels.

LiveFuels, which has so far garnered $10 million in funding, has filed 10 patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on its approach to growing and harvesting algae in nature for the purpose of biofuels. The pilot algae farm-fishery will be used to test which breeds of algae-consuming fish work best.

"By harnessing the power of natural systems, we hope to achieve what has eluded the biofuels community for decades: cost-effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability," LiveFuels CEO Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones said in a statement.

If the pilot project works, LiveFuels plans to apply the technique to an area of coastal Louisiana where the Mississippi River is particularly .

By harnessing the agricultural waste currently polluting the river to create algae blooms, the company hopes to both grow their algae and schools of fish for biofuels, and reduce the amount of agricultural-waste pollution that is finding its way into the ocean.