As hard as it is to imagine that a staple of the snail diet can fuel a fighter jet, Ed Liston, MPE ’66, COO of Plankton Power, says algae is just that kind of magic microbe. In addition to producing fats that can be turned into fuel, algae subsist on only sun, nutrients, and CO₂—a diet that offers an environmental bonus. “If you can siphon off, say, a big exhaust stack, and feed it to the algae,” says Liston, “it is a win-win situation.”
Plankton Power, based on Cape Cod, is in the midst of launching a 3,000-square-foot pilot farm in Woods Hole, Mass. “We want to make sure the process is repeatable, sustainable, and operational,” says Liston. “Then we want to scale it up.” The next step would be a 20-acre site, which he expects would produce two million gallons of jet fuel a year. Liston has a long history in energy, including eight years as CEO and president of Cogenex Corporation of Lowell, Mass., where he worked with big institutions, like universities, to reduce energy consumption through HVAC automation and energy-efficient lighting.
Today, Liston splits his time between Plankton Power and an alternative energy development company he cofounded in 2003, DG Clean Power, which is currently installing a 15-acre solar farm in Uxbridge, Mass. When it is completed later this year, he says, it will generate about 1.5 million kilowatt hours annually—enough electricity to support 300 households.
The work is an exciting culmination, says Liston, offering the ability to combine a long professional history with the ability to “do something that’s good for the economy and good for mankind.” —DAN MORRELL