Lab Gets $15 Million For Algae Research

TRIADELPHIA – As energy costs continue to rise, Touchstone Research Laboratory may have the answer to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil: algae.

Now, Triadelphia-based Touchstone will participate in a $15 million U.S. Department of Energy program for Advancements in Sustainable Algal Production.

The goal of the program is to have test beds across the country growing algae in different environments to understand how various new technologies perform in different environments. The department’s companies and research institutes will now have access to facilities and data from long-term algal cultivation trials for use in establishing a realistic and coherent state of technology for algal biofuels.

“When you go back far enough, all oil came from organisms that consumed carbon dioxide. This is what we are now doing with the algae,” Brian Joseph, president and chief executive officer of Touchstone, said recently.

“We need to find algae that make more oil. We are about two or three breakthroughs away from making this commercially viable,” he added.

Touchstone’s algae-growing facility in Wooster, Ohio, includes a laboratory and four large-scale growing ponds that are 180 feet in length. Two of the algae ponds are in greenhouses while two are outside. The facility takes waste carbon dioxide from a fluidized bed furnace located at the site and uses it to grow the algae. “The goal of Touchstone’s research is to solve two of the biggest problems in large-scale algae production: reducing evaporative water loss and keeping predator microorganisms out of the growing environment,” said Philip Lane, Touchstone’s biofuels program manager.

In addition to the algae programs, Touchstone has invented new aluminum alloys, new steel products and helped to qualify new materials for windmills and jet engines. The company has also invented new ways to produce carbon fiber aircraft parts. Joseph said the company has solved thousands of manufacturing problems for almost any industry.

One of Touchstone’s most famous products is CFOAM. The coal-based material is a lightweight, fire-resistant and impact-absorbing structural carbon foam. It can be fabricated in a variety of shapes, sizes and densities. CFOAM replaces conventional materials that are heavier and higher in cost while providing greater structural capability.

Another Touchstone item is CSTONE, which stands for carbon stone. This is also a coal-based product that has been tested in various defense applications, including landing pads, missile tubes and rocket nozzles.

“Touchstone is entering a new era with new technologies, new products and new services. To handle this growth, Touchstone is now looking to hire additional engineers and scientists to manage programs and invent new things,” Joseph added.