"To the naked eye it looks like any other green house built by dwarfs," John Anderson, CEO of WM Moss Jr. Corporation, said as he approached the first half acre bio reactor constructed at the Port of Umatilla.
In a full year of operation, they've estimated that each acre of troughs will be able to provide enough algae to create 100,000 gallons of oil for biofuels processing, 2,500 gallons of the omega 3-fatty acids and 5,000 tons of flaked algae for animal nutrition.
All of the water in the ponds can be re-circulated back into the bio reactors for the next batch of algae. The oil extracted from the algae can be further processed to make omega-3 fatty acid, biodiesel and glycerin. The remaining cell material that's left behind may then be used to make animal feed.
According to Anderson, their process is contaminant free, unlike the processes many other algae manufacturers use.
"The conditions for the algae are nearly ideal here," said Anderson. "You have more sunlight than they have in the Imperial Valley, California. The temperature is fairly moderate and the rainfall is fairly low, and there's not a lot of snow."
While the company is still in the pre-production stage, eventually they are planning to fill up to 100 acres of the surrounding Conforth Subdivision with bio reactors.
As they grow, their demand for employees will grow with them.
"We're very comfortable saying that when we are in full production, we will probably be in the 30-40 head count. When we get a little bigger and have grown things out- 100 is an easy number to hit," said Anderson.
The Tacoma, Wash., firm had hoped to be in production already, but efforts to cover the algae-growing tanks with a lightweight translucent plastic material failed.
"It lasted 12 hours," said Mike Ripka, the company's science officer. "The fabric was so light it wouldn't sustain stitching and seams."
When the material failed, it took the lightweight roof frame with it.
"The steel buckled like so many Pennsylvania pretzels," Ripka said.
Workers spent the days leading up to the Fourth of July holiday applying a rigid plastic roof over the tanks, which Moss workers call reactors. Once sealed, the reactors will sustain a temperature of 130 degrees with 100 percent humidity, which promotes algae growth.
After workers replaced the roof, they had to thoroughly clean the reactor, and did so by sealing it tightly and injecting chlorine gas during the holiday weekend.
"Cleansing is complete," said Anderson.
"We have water in the production reactors and are planning to move algae into production this coming week," he said
Ripka and his partners have sent samples all over the United States for technical and customer assessments.
"We are experiencing algae biomass growth rates well above those achieved in over two years of pilot plant operation conducted in Washington state," Anderson said.
Ripka said it would take six to nine days for the five-section reactor to be full of growing algae.
Then Moss workers can begin harvesting their first large crop from the 1 million liter reactor.
"Once it's fully up and running, we have to harvest every hour," Ripka said.
Anderson is eager to begin production.
"All planned products - nutritional oils, biofuels, and dry algae flake - have multiple buyers interested in the quality and planned production rate," he said.
Moss officials floated their plan for industrial algae production before the Port of Umatilla Commission in late October. They proposed an industrial algae farm on 20 acres, with plans to expand it to 100 acresWithin five years, each of five 20-acre parcels would accommodate two 8-acre algae reactors and two processing plants. That would be a total of 10 reactors covering 80 acres and 10 processing plants.
The reactor operating just south of Two Rivers Correctional Institution, east of Umatilla covers just half an acre of the 20 acres Moss leased from the Port of Umatilla. Moss is paying the port $3,000 monthly and has signed a two-year lease.
Adjacent to the algae reactor, on the northwest corner of the property is a 7,000-square-foot building that includes offices, a laboratory, processing center and warehouse space for processing materials and for product inventory.
A technical laboratory would support the entire complex, employing up to 10.
Kim Puzey, the port's general manager, said during Moss's planned five-year plan, the company intends to lease or buy up to 100 acres, spend up to $50 million and employ 150 people.
"We are working closely with the company to determine the most effective way to support their efforts toward large scale commercial success," Puzey said.
The company's plan says in a full year of operation, each acre of reactors would produce enough algae to provide more than 10,000 gallons of oil for biodiesel processing, plus omega-3 fatty acids and flaked algae.
Anderson confirmed his company is moving forward with expansion plans.
"We have recently secured commercial financing sufficient to expand our Umatilla operations to 100 acres," he said. "We are in discussion with the Port of Umatilla regarding infrastructure enhancements needed to support this growth."
Dean Brickey contributed to this report.