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CEHMM: not-for-profit in New Mexico

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Chance To See   Saturday, 05/02/09 06:48:30 PM
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CEHMM: not-for-profit in New Mexico

I’ve just begun to look into algae. Thanks for this board.

I stumbled on this not-for-profit research organization located at Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is in New Mexico’s piece of the southwest’s Permian Basin. I don't think it's been mentioned on the board so far. It’s called Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management (CEHMM). In spite of the name, it looks like their main project is their Algae Biodiesel Project.

This is a link to their site:

Sorry this post is so long, but I wanted to give enough detail to place them in the picture.


I haven’t absorbed all the details, but they use a saltwater microalgae (with a very high oil content) so they can use the salt groundwater. Their hope, I gather, is to guide New Mexico to a leading place in algae cultivation.

Their plan apparently is to develop a full system and license the technology if they’re successful. March 7, 2008 article: “The Center for Hazardous Materials has so far invested about $5 million in the research. Lynn expects the technology to be commercially viable within two years, at which point it will be licensed to private partners.” April 2009: “A fully integrated, commercial scale system that places no burden on our domestic water supplies and can be run entirely on renewable energy is our goal. This means embedding wind, solar, and wastewaters into our strategic plan for the future.” (I don't know if this includes the processing into biodiesel, but their ambitious goals seem to point in that direction.)

A video from last summer/fall (from the home page, click on “Algae Biofuel”) talks about a goal of $80 per barrel.

Articles tracing their work so far can be found under “CEHMM News Articles” from the home page. Some of the articles are from Biodiesel Magazine and some are from local magazines and newspapers. I’ve skimmed most of them but haven’t yet read them carefully.


They work with New Mexico State University and are funded by federal earmarks (their term) and also through the state of New Mexico’s Energy and Innovation Fund. A State Representative is on the center’s BOD and apparently New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman is a supporter of alternative energy. (I note from a previous post that New Mexico's Senator Udall just got Sapphire some federal money for a New Mexico project):
From an October, 2007 article when Sen. Pete Domenici was retiring: “It probably goes without saying the Bingaman brings a different set of priorities to the table than Domenici. Bingaman is unlikely, for example, to ever be as much of a supporter of Global Nuclear Energy Partnership efforts as Domenici has been. However, Bingaman is just as likely to continue to be a strong supporter of Carlsbad’s efforts in biodiesel research.”


[This is their latest information release, from April 2009, currently on the home page:]

New Algae Technology Brightens Future of Renewable Fuels
Dateline: April 2009

CEHMM has developed breakthrough technology for growing algae and producing oil from it. Algae oil is considered by many to be the most promising renewable source of oil that can be used to produce large quantities of biofuels without impacting the production of traditional food crops.

The new technology delivers large amounts of concentrated algae that gets over half of its dry weight from oil. Until now, the amount of oil that could be extracted from algae has been much lower. The algae was grown in New Mexico in outdoor, oval-shaped, “raceway” type ponds and extraction of the oils was done in Dexter Michigan by SRS, a company who is at the forefront of commercial extraction technology.

The first demonstration was conducted on 2000 gallons of concentrate and has since been repeated in order to validate the original results. The raw oils extracted from CEHMM’s algae show incredible purity and viability for fuel production. Industry specialists have long speculated that in order for algae biofuels to become commercially viable, a strain would have to be developed that yielded at least 25% oil. CEHMM is consistently growing algae with twice that oil content.

“Of course we’re excited about this,” stated Douglas Lynn, Executive Director for CEHMM, “At first we were being cautiously optimistic, but now we can predict our lipid (oil) levels and repeat those actions that stimulate lipid production in a procedural, scientifically sound manner.” By doing this CEHMM has abandoned many of the traditional aspects of algal cultivation and has discovered some new and innovative means for raising and harvesting these microorganisms. “Once we get to commercial demonstration with consistent yields, we’ll start looking at integrating water and energy conservation strategies into our project design. A fully integrated, commercial scale system that places no burden on our domestic water supplies and can be run entirely on renewable energy is our goal. This means embedding wind, solar, and wastewaters into our strategic plan for the future.” Lynn said.

Lynn credited his staff with the groundbreaking accomplishment and added, “Our partnership with New Mexico State University has been a critical component to this success story, and now we’re beginning to develop some lines of technological development with Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory. I couldn’t be more fortunate than to be a member of this team.”


[This is a couple of years old but it is useful because it gives a third-party view with a few colorful details and also gives a brief overview of algae production steps (good for neophytes like me).]

Thursday, May 17, 2007
Algae in the desert: CEHMM

About a week and a half ago, we visited the wonderful folks at CEHMM, shot an hour and a half of video, saw their research, and generally had a good time. Here are my notes:

We drove into Carlsbad, New Mexico, a little mining and oil town in southeastern New Mexico surrounded by high desert. This humble location is home to one of the world's few algae-based biofuels research organizations.

CEHMM (pronounced "chem" - the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management) is a research organization whose primary aim is to protect human and environmental health while advancing economic development of the area. If they are successful in their algae work, they will certainly have achieved this goal.

Producing biodiesel from algae requires 4 basic steps:
-- Growing the algae
-- Harvesting (separating water from algae)
-- Extracting the oil from the algae
-- Processing the oil into biodiesel

1. Growing
Growing algae is the easy part - algae requires sunlight, water, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and some way to protect the purity and health of the algae.

30 miles north of Carlsbad, in Artesia, NM, on the grounds of New Mexico State University's agricultural research station, reside CEHMM's test ponds. To protect their algae, they are using saltwater algae in a brine - the brine water protects the algae from intruders and keeps the strain fairly pure.

Here is a photo of test pond #1: the paddle wheel both agitates and aerates the algae - providing it with atmospheric CO2.
And here is a photo of the soon to be completed 1/8 acre test pond:

2. Harvesting
These algae ponds reach about 1 gram of (useful) biomass per liter of (useless) water. Getting rid of the water is a difficult step. There are many methods of harvesting algae (see this Wikipedia article on algaculture for other ideas), CEHMM is using a proprietary technology that involves membranes (think: very fine mesh filters that don't clog) to create a very concentrated mixture of water and algae.

3. Extracting
If harvesting is difficult, extracting is extremely difficult. This step is again proprietary (darn NDAs), and I was only given hand-waving explanations of how CEHMM accomplishes this bit. They are apparently looking at two competing technologies - one is able to produce biodiesel directly from the harvested algae by melting cell membranes, etc. I have no idea what other products are made in this process.

Another process they are looking at involves separating the oil from the cell membranes (which can then be composted, used as fertilizer, fed to animals, etc).

4. Processing

If CEHMM chooses to go with the second of the two extraction methods, they will have to process the resulting oil into biodiesel. In a retired gas station in Carlsbad, NM CEHMM has a small scale biodiesel production facility. Here is where they experiment with biodiesel production techniques (and fill up the local fire department with the resulting fuel).

Here is Terry showing off the second ever batch of biodiesel produced from algae. "A group in New Zealand beat us by a week."

I can't wait to see the fruits of CEHMM's research, it is my hope that in the not too distant future, many of us will be driving around on algae-produced biodiesel.

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