Ross O. Youngs (left), CEO of Univenture in Marysville, explains a point on the technology involved with turning algae into an oil for biodiesel fuels. Dr. Joseph Hager (center) of EMTECH and Ron Erd (right) of Independence Bio Products also made presentations during the Algae Information Seminar hosted by the Van Wert County OSU Extension Office Economic Development.
Ross O. Youngs (left), CEO of Univenture in Marysville, explains a point on the technology involved with turning algae into an oil for biodiesel fuels. Dr. Joseph Hager (center) of EMTECH and Ron Erd (right) of Independence Bio Products also made presentations during the Algae Information Seminar hosted by the Van Wert County OSU Extension Office Economic Development.
BY AARON GILLESPIE

Times Bulletin Staff

Is is possible that the green stuff growing in the pond in your backyard could help solve the country's dependency on petroleum? Not quite yet, but algae is being looked at by many as a viable option for this purpose and could become a factor in the very near future. This point along with many others were discussed Thursday morning at an "Algae Informational Seminar" that took place at Vantage Career Center in Van Wert.

The seminar, which was hosted by the Van Wert County OSU Extension Economic Development group, was intended to describe how Ohio can effectively commercialize algae-based technologies that can increase economic activity and reduce petroleum dependency. The seminar featured three speakers including: Ross O. Youngs, the CEO of Univenture, Dr. Joseph Hager of EMTEC and Ron Erd of Independence Bio Products.

Univenture Inc. has been listed as Inc. 500's fastest growing company for five years running with Youngs as the CEO. Univenture's home office and corporate headquarters are located in Marysville, Ohio, and Ohio is the area where they intend to grow their algae industry.

According to Youngs, the U.S. has 1.6 percent of world oil reserves and they produce 9 percent of the oil but consume 24 percent of it. Obviously, petroleum is an issue for nearly everyone, and Youngs believes that algae oil has the potential to be a highly productive commodity.

"Algae has the potential to produce 20,000 gallons per acre of oil," said Youngs. This is in comparison to 13 gallons per acre for corn and 48 gallons per acre for soy.

Algae oil can be compared very closely to the color and consistency of vegetable oil, and can be used to create a form of biodiesel.

The focus of algae growth is sunlight, and a combination of some natural resources that make Ohio well suited for the task. Youngs also noted that algae has a higher productivity at higher altitudes which means that people in this industry are looking at the northern latitudes for the capability of algae as a fuel. The natural resources required for algae growth are somewhat simple: water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients.

"We think Ohio is a good place because we have the natural resources," noted Youngs. Dr. Joseph W. Hager of EMTEC agrees, "Ohio appears to be a good state to grow algae."

Univenture's plan for an algae growing facility would consist of creating a hybrid pond. These ponds, referred to as cells would be 11 by 200 feet and there would be 16 cells per acre. Total acreage for one of these facilities could range anywhere from 15 acres to 100 acres with a 100 acre complex costing $10 million and creating 15 direct jobs and 60 indirect jobs. As a whole, Youngs estimated that the algae industry could directly create 79,000 jobs that would be all over the board.

Dr. Hager of EMTEC noted that nearly two-thirds of oil supply is imported and the total annual petroleum consumption of the U.S. is 7.3 billion barrels, with over 60 percent of this going to transportation use. These reasons alone are what makes algae oil a very attractive endeavor according to Hager.

"The concept of algae oil is attractive and worthwhile to find out how much can be done and how to do this," he said.

Ron Erd of Independence Bio Products agreed that algae oil has its benefits because of the existing oil prices and the trend in those.

"The bottom line is, oil prices are probably going to stay high for the foreseeable future," said Erd.

With the viability of algae as an alternative fuel source, an Ohio being a prime location for the growth of this industry, it is evident why Van Wert County Economic Development Director Nancy Bowen has interest in the venture.

"It's looking at diversifying our economy, looking at new initiatives that can help to grow and diversify our economy into more of a knowledge based economy. Our goal is to really promote and encourage entrepreneurship in green technologies and we are excited about algae because it is just coming to the floor, just getting known, and we like to be at the cutting edge of that," said Bowen.

Bowen also noted that a business plan will be completed to implement green technology, including algae, to the overall economic development plan and they will be working very closely with Univenture.