The power plant in Boardman, Oregon, is the state’s only coal-fired facility — and also the the state’s largest single emitter of carbon dioxide. To deal with this problem, Portland General Electric and Columbia Energy Partners have started a pilot project to turn the otherwise nasty emissions into biodiesel, ethanol, and even livestock feed.
How does it work? Just like you and I breathe in oxygen to make energy, algae breathe in carbon dioxide to make energy. So, if you capture all that carbon dioxide and feed it to the algae, they grow. Algae are particularly oily little buggers so after they’ve matured they can be squeezed to make oil. The leftover algae carcasses can then be converted to ethanol and used as feed for livestock.
Right now, the project’s scale is so tiny that it’ll hardly scratch the surface of the 600-megawatt facility’s 5 million tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions. But project proponents are quick to point out that when the project goes full scale in 2½ years, it should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 60% during daylight hours and produce 20 million gallons of biodiesel per year.