Algae Energy Converter
Inventor: Alfons Viszolay
Day job: President, VM Technology
His all-time favorite invention: Alternating current—the type of energy produced in residences and businesses (as opposed to direct current, which is produced by batteries). Viszolay also loves the microchip.
How his invention could affect our lives: It could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and it could provide fuel for Eritrean villagers
There is no patent.
Meet the inventor: EcoVersity, the nonprofit educational center on Agua Fria Street, has been looking more like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab lately.
The reason is that Alfons Viszolay, a 65-year-old Hungarian chemist, installed his algae energy contraption on EcoVersity’s campus.
The project works like this: Algae are placed in a container and fed carbon dioxide—an essential nutrient that determines how fast algae grow. The more CO2 given to algae, the quicker they develop. Algae also need sun—lots of it—so Viszolay keeps the algae in long, translucent water-filled polypropylene tubes that act as a sort of greenhouse. Eventually, the algae are collected, squeezed and the oils they contain are separated.
From one acre of algae tubes, Viszolay estimates he gets 5,000 gallons of biodiesel per year. The algae machine at EcoVersity creates enough energy to run it, he says, and for Ecoversity to receive money back from Public Service Company of New Mexico.
Viszolay moved to Harlem in the 1960s during the Cold War and began experimenting with alternative power sources. His first venture into alternative energy was in 1979, when Bill Lear (of Learjet fame) asked Viszolay to help develop a hydrogen-fueled bus system.
Viszolay knew that public consciousness was against him. “This was in the muscle car era,” he says. “Gas was 60 cents a gallon—diesel was 25 cents. I was laughed at.”
As far as expanding beyond EcoVersity, Viszolay says he has been in touch with nonprofit human rights group CHF International to possibly build an algae field in Eritrea, where villagers currently have to walk miles for firewood. He also is in talks with the Navajo Nation and is planning to build an algae field at Santa Fe Brewing Company this fall as well.
Cheap, renewable energy is a goal of Viszolay’s, but it’s not the only one. He believes so strongly in getting young people involved that, when he created the algae technology company LGI Inc., he made his 9- and 10-year-old kids the CEO and president, respectively.
“That’s the future of all of this, you know. I’m investing in this for the kids,” Viszolay says.