The Big A: Little algae go Big, Industrial and Global, and just as eco-friendly as ever

September 21, 2012 |

Big Auto, Bio Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Food – touching them all, now and increasingly, is Big A, as algae technologies gain in scale, scope and world-wide reach.

This Monday in Denver, the algae industry stages its biggest annual get-together when the Algae Biomass Organization’s four-day Algae Biomass Summit kicks off.

The annual meet-up opens just as word arrives from Australia that Aurora Algae, at the demonstration plant it opened in May of this year, met all of its ten milestone operating targets set by the Western Australian Government’s Low Emissions Energy Development (LEED) fund.

The project had been allocated $2 million in state support, subject to meeting all 10 targets – including producing biofuels onsite and and successfully completing vehicle tests. Aurora expects now to proceed to construction of a commercial-scale system.

Where else in Australia?

There’s been a huge amount of discussion about the algal opportunities in Australia – leading us to dub the country “Algstralia”. Beyond the chatter, some rigorous thinking has been done on the topic of where else in Western Australia. The Center for Researh into Energy for Sustainable Transport (CREST) has just released a report by Michael Borowitzka and a team of researchers at NMurdoch Univeristy and the University of Western Australia on that very topic. “Identification of algal biofuel production sites using GIS Model” focuses on an array of potential sites along Western Australia’s northwest coastline – the complete report is available here.

Lufthansa invests in algae aviation biofuels

This week, Algae.Tec and Lufthansa have signed a Collaboration Agreement for the construction of a large-scale algae to aviation biofuels production facility. The site will be in Europe adjacent to an industrial CO2 source. Lufthansa will arrange 100% funding for the project. Algae.Tec will receive licence fees and profits from the Project, which will be managed by Algae.Tec. As part of the Agreement, Lufthansa commits to a long-term offtake agreement of at least 50% of the crude oil produced at an agreed price. A final feasibility report will be completed once the first site has been selected. More on that development here.

14 algae companies competing in the Hot 50 (biofuels) and Hot 30 (renewable chemicals and biomaterials)

For those who are watching algae-related biofuels and products companies closely, note that Sapphire Energy, Algenol, Algix, Cellana, Phycal, Algae.Tec, Bioalgene, BioProcess Algae, Heliae, Muradel, Bio Architecture Lab, Solix, and Aurora Algae are competing in this year’s Rankings. Perrenial hot company Solazyme, last year’s #1, is also competing – and use algae in their process even though they generally prefer to be defined by their “renewable oils” product rather than their algae-based process. More on the Hot 50 and Hot 30 is here.

The big themes at ABS this year

· More than fuels. Big advances in commercializing co-products like feed, food, cosmetics and chemicals are giving legs to an industry that is building up to providing commercial quantities for fuel markets.

· Success is begetting success. Big steps on the commercial side are being recognized and accompanied by progress in science and research. DOE just awarded $15 million for the first national algae testbed in AZ, and the Summit has remained a place to learn about the latest breakthroughs since its inception.

· The Murky Policy Pond. Prospects for biofuel policy that could stabilize investment and production have been murky this year at best. The Summit comes just a few weeks before elections–speculation, projections and analysis of what the future holds will be part of plenary and hallway discussions. Even in today’s tough political environment algae has made great inroads by proving itself and getting on the radar of Congress and state governments. How will the momentum continue?

· Algae’s sustainability advantage—the ability to generate high yields without major impacts on freshwater and agricultural land has attracted more attention as drought withers crops around the country. L. Hunter Lovins, President of Natural Capitalism Solutions will discuss during a keynote on Tuesday morning followed by a plenary on algae becoming global feedstock for renewable products.

Mary Rosenthal, executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization notes, “You can trace the arc of progress in our industry through the annual Algae Biomass Summit,” said Mary Rosenthal. “From the early summits that were highlighted by scientific discovery and theoretical possibilities, through announcements of breakthrough technology and bench success, to today, where a thriving ecosystem of companies and leaders network, share information, exhibit, showcase posters and give live presentations. If you’re in the algae space, there’s no better place to be.”

Top speakers at the Algae Biomass Summit

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will deliver the opening keynote address when the event convenes in Denver on Monday, September 24th. Governor Hickenlooper will discuss the importance developing algae-derived fossil fuel replacements and other products for the economy and energy independence.

Immediately following the governor’s address, executives from some of the top algae companies will discuss their own companies as well as pressing industry issues. The session will feature Alex Aravanis, CSO of Sapphire Energy; Tim Burns, CEO of BioProcess Algae; Martin Sabarsky, CEO of Cellana; Dan Simon, CEO of Heliae; and Paul Woods, CEO at Algenol Biofuels. More on the ABS including a complete agenda is here.

The Summer of Algae – a recap.

In case you missed them, here are some of the highlights from this year’s Summer of Algae celebrations:

• Seattle’s Beer Belly Summer of Algae

• San Diego’s Concentrated Algae

• Colorado’s Summer of Algae

The Summer of Algae in Minnesota

Algae’s Big 2012 – 5 Huge Events

2012 was supposed to mark, according to some observers of the Mayan calendar system, the end of the world as we knew it. It just may well turn out that way, after a big year for algae.

1. Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude Farm completed.

Late last month, Sapphire Energy announced that the first phase of its Green Crude Farm, the world’s first commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility, is now operational in Columbus. Construction of this first phase, which began on June 1, 2011, was completed on time and on budget. When all phases are completed, the facility will produce 1.5 million gallons per year of crude oil and consist of approximately 300 acres of algae cultivation ponds and processing facilities. The farm has already produced 81 tons of algae biomass to date.

We highlighted the project in the Digest, here.

2. Aurora Algae opens its demonstration scale project in Western Australia

Earlier this year, we wrote: “Word has been sneaking back to the United States from Australia that Aurora Algae is well into a $100 million capital raise from a combination of existing and new investors, and is aiming at an IPO later in the year to fund its growth from a 6-acre demonstration unit to a small commercial facility of 250 acres, and then potentially to thousands of acres in its next iteration.”

More about that in “Aurora Algae, Making it Happen in the Never Never.”

3. The first National Algae Testbed.

The DOE announced last Tuesday that a $15 million award for advancing algae production will go to supporting efforts at the Arizona State University led Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3). ATP3 is a network of research institutions and companies that will pool resources in a way that allows new algae technologies, strains and techniques to be tested and evaluated for their potential to succeed at large-scale production.

More about that here.

4. Lufthansa, Algae.Tec to build commercial scale algae aviation fuels plant in Europe

In Australia, Algae.Tec and Lufthansa have signed a Collaboration Agreement for the construction of a large-scale algae to aviation biofuels production facility. The site will be in Europe adjacent to an industrial CO2 source. Lufthansa will arrange 100% funding for the project. Algae.Tec will receive licence fees and profits from the Project, which will be managed by Algae.Tec.

More on the story.

5. 2012 RIMPAC exercises feature the Green Strike Group, powered by algae.

At the beginning of the summer, the Green Strike Group got underway at RIMPAC. The United States Navy may be laboring under a congressional ban on biofuel purchases that cost more than bargain basement fossil fuels, but no one said the Navy can’t burn the biofuel it’s already got. Nothing would bring that day closer than the naval exercises held off the Hawaiian islands starting June 29, known as the Rim of the Pacific Fleet Exercises, or RIMPAC War Games. The setting of the movie “Battleship”, RIMPAC is a competitive war simulation in which participating fleets and naval vessels attempt to outmaneuver and “sink” each others’ ships, winning or losing tactical points in the RIMPAC scoring system.

More on that here.

You can read more about the 10 biggest milestones in the “Summer of aviation biofuels” in the Digest’s “Fly the Bio Skies.”

The Bottom Line

A zillion speakers at the Algae Biomass Summit will reinforce a common theme: With algae just as with computers and software, intensive R&D will and must go on, but algae-based companies are leaving the lab in large numbers and heading for the markets. For the technology’s many fans, it’s hugely exciting to see.

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