Thermal fish farm demonstrates ‘game-changing’ technology for OOIL

THERMAL – The words “game-changing technology” and “fish farming” do not typically find themselves in the same sentence, let alone on 120 acres of desert farmland in the eastern Coachella Valley.

But the new algae- and water-processing systems recently rolled out for a public demonstration at Aqua Farming Technology, a solar-powered fish farm in Thermal, may be the real deal.

Developed by Origin Oil of Los Angeles, the algae-harvesting machine is a conveyor-belt type of contraption that uses a low-voltage electric process to separate the tiny, nutrient-rich plants from water, depositing a thick, bright green soup in a collector at one end. The system also further concentrates the algae, which can then be turned into pellets for high-quality, chemical-free fish food.

The water processor takes waste water from fish tanks — which may contain toxic levels of ammonia and other bacteria — and uses a similar electric process and additional filtering to remove most of the pollutants in seconds and without using chemicals.

While still in the fine-tuning phases, the installation at Aqua Farming is “the very first time our technology is being showcased in the field,” said Riggs Eckelberry, CEO and co-founder of Origin Oil with his brother Nicholas Eckelberry, who developed the systems.

“You will know that the Coachella Valley can be the source of organic fish,” said Riggs, who demonstrated the high nutritional value of the algae pellets by popping a few in his mouth.

“I am astonished by the possibilities,” said Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, one of a group of local government and business officials who turned out for the demonstration on Dec. 18.

“Can you imagine if this is something that could be tapped into for the restoration of the Salton Sea?” he said.

Pérez is one of a group of state and valley officials looking for the right mix of renewable energy development and conservation measures to save the shrinking salt-water sea, California’s largest lake, which straddles Riverside and Imperial counties.

For Rocky French, who started Aqua Farming in 1993, the machines tackle two key problems for his business — the high cost of fish meal and keeping the water in his fish tanks as free of pollutants as possible.

The algae harvester could mean a 50-percent reduction in fish-food bills that can run about $500,000 a year, he said. Those savings could eventually translate into the farm being able to produce more fish for the market.

“We’re going to be making feed out of our waste water,” he said. “It’s better feed. It’s going to change how we grow fish.”

The 60 tanks on French’s farm turn out about 2,500 pounds of tilapia, catfish and carp a week, most of it going to markets in Los Angeles.

Long an advocate of sustainable farming, French was among the first farmers in the east valley to install solar panels to help power his operation. He currently recycles water from his fish tanks naturally through a network of five ponds planted with water cabbage, a leafy green plant with a dense, underlying root system that filters out impurities.

While the natural process takes a few days, Origin Oil’s machine could cut the job down to a few hours per tank, French said, meaning he would need to pump less ground water for the farm, another money saver. Cleaner water also could result in healthier fish, he said.

“It makes the water good for the baby fish,” he said. “Water pathogens, it’s a constant problem with your survival rate.”

“Evolutionary” machines

Randy Ryan is assistant director at the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Arizona, where he is developing technology for high-volume algae production. He stops short of calling Origin Oil’s machines game-changers, instead labeling them “evolutionary.”

In a business where algae farmers have to “cut pennies in half” to turn a profit, Ryan said, the company’s harvesting system is “top of the list for dewatering algae.”

“It’s simplistic but hardy,” he said. “That makes algae farming technically and economically viable.”

The water-processing system could go online fulltime at Aqua Farming in about two months, Nicholas Eckelberry said, while the algae harvester only awaits French’s next cycle of algae production in the new year. If the brothers can show good results in Thermal, an expanding global market could be waiting.

Farm-raised fish first passed beef production worldwide in 2011, a gap that has continued to grow, according to figures from the United Nations and U.S. Department of Agriculture. By the end of 2013, for the first time, people across the globe may have eaten more farm-raised fish than beef.

The Eckelberrys got involved after starting Origin Oil in 2007, originally to produce algae, and found themselves faced with the problem of getting the stuff out of the water profitably, said Nicholas, whose official title is chief inventor.

While he said he simply synthesized and developed existing technology that had been developed in different places around the world, the company has seven patents pending in the U.S. for its algae- and water-processing technologies. Patents have already been granted in Australia and Japan, Nicholas said.

The company has also branched out, using the same low-voltage electric process for separating algae and ammonia from water for a system that could clean oil out of the water used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the water-injection process used for drilling shale oil and other hard-to-reach fossil fuels in the U.S. and Canada. That technology is ready for a rollout in the field similar to the demonstration at Aqua Farming, Nicholas said.

Asked about the apparent conflict between using the same technology for algae, fish farming and fossil-fuel production, he said, there is none.

“It’s all about cleaning water,” he said. “Fracking water is disgusting; it’s polluting our watershed. You can say stop fracking, but that’s not going to happen ever. To clean water is the main focus.”

The brothers plan to partner with companies in other countries that will license their technology.

“Always license,” Nicholas said. “We want to stay on the research end.”

As to whether the algae or water-processing machines could help at the Salton Sea, Riggs Eckelberry said possibly.

Algae is already farmed near the sea, for use as biofuels and nutritional supplements. The water-processing machine would not be able to desalinate the water, he said, but could remove bacteria and other pollutants, especially if used on the creeks feeding the sea.

Pérez said the next step could get the Eckelberrys together with local officials to develop a pilot project at the sea.

“The potential is here,” he said. “Now we have this technology, why not dream?”

 

OriginOil is not an oil and gas company, they are a water technology company that

 

just so happens to have a hand in saving all water intensive industries a lot of

 

money. The recent decline in oil price has other companies like Halliburton

 

(NYSE:HAL) scrambling to adjust but for OOIL, they've already built in two other

 

revenue drivers to capitalize on.

 

The one major outlier and the piece of the logistics puzzle that is "clean water"

 

comes down to efficiency of production and…of course…water. If these companies

 

can save on this aspect alone, there could be hundreds of thousands of dollars left

 

over to put back into R & D or simply attribute it to the bottom line of the financials.

 

OOIL has gained much more attention as of late, for its novel water remediation

 

process. In fact AlJazeera America's TechKnow series profiled the company and its

 

processes. It was then broadcast across the world to 250million viewers. The added

 

exposure from TechKnow could expand the reach of the Company's technology on a

 

much larger, global scale.

 

It wasn't that long ago when OOIL announced the signing of a 7-figure sale to Oman

 

and most recently set up several licensing deals for resellers in the Caribbean and in

 

the Middle East. Based on the overall amount of progress Origin has been realizing,

 

we see that there is incredible potential for a long-term vision that involves this

 

unique water remediation process not only being used by the oil and gas industry

 

but far reaching into algae and even waste water clean-up as well.

 

In my opinion, OriginOil has a multi-pronged approach to generating additional

 

sources of revenue in situations such as the current state of the oil and gas industry.

 

It will be those involved at these early stages who will have the biggest opportunity

 

to reap the largest rewards and therefore I think that based on the current price

 

OOIL is trading at, this could be an incredibly undervalued play in the OTC; worth a

 

closer look heading into the rest of this year.

 

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