10 Hottest Tickets along Algae’s Broadway

September 29, 2013 |

GreatGreenWayThe lights go up for algae’s biggest gathering, the 2013 Algae Biomass Summit.

Here are 10 must-sees amidst a bumper crop of top presentations this year along the Great Green Way.

You’d like to think that, if algae ever evolve to the point of reading English, they might look back with great pride at the early 21st century and all the fuss that they kicked up, and all the hopes that rest on their tiny little heads.

Not that they have heads, but you get the idea.

Truth is, more attention is lavished these days on their breeding, care, feeding — and erecting world-scale hotels for their living space — than has been collectively spent on the the top dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, or thoroughbred horses at the Kentucky Derby.

The best chance all year to see ‘Algae on Parade’? — or at least to see the top scientists and commercial minds behind their rise. That’s the Algae Biomass Summit, in Orlando this year and kicking off Monday night— which you might think of as Algae’s Great Green Way.

With four days of events and three tracks to choose from as the kleig lights turn up and the green carpet rolls out — it’s tough to pick out a few worth watching. We’ll focus this year, in our preview, not so much on who are “the best” presenters (opinions differ) — but rather, a blend of hot presenters and hot topics that make these 10 the Top Tickets this year.

Tuesday October 1

10:45 am – 11:15 am

Keynote Address
Matt Horton, CEO, Propel Fuels

Digest Notes: If you haven’t caught up with landmark biofuels retailer Propel Fuels – by all means go and bookmark their website right now. Propel has been redefining the biofuels “at the pump” experience for going on 10 years now, starting with humble roots in Seattle. We’ve seen some other great brands start humbly in the Emerald City: Nordstroms, Starbucks, United Airlines, Costco, Boeing, Microsoft, Eddie Bauer, and REI, just to name a few. Propel is right up there, as an innovator, in our view. Recently, they were the innovative home for an algae biofuels retail trial with Solazyme that won rave reviews from customers.


Economic Analysis of Algae-to-Biofuel Systems
Erik Venteris, Spatial Modeling Research Engineer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 
A National-Scale Comparison of Resource and Nutrient Demands for Algae Based Biofuel Production by Lipid Extraction and Hydrothermal Liquefaction

Digest Notes: When it comes to fuels, it it better to extract the lipids from algae — or liquefy the entire biomass with some heat in the process, aiming for a pyro liquids that can be upgraded to fuels in a second step. Both paths are possible it all comes down to process economics, and it’s a vital question. Here, PNNL’s Erik Venteris gives us the latest scoop. It’s liposuction on the grand scale, vs. the Big Hot Pressure Cooker.

4:30 pm – 6:00 pm

Molecular Biology and Genetics
Beth Rasala, Senior Scientist, Triton Algae Innovations Inc. 
Genetic Tools for Microalgal Research and Biotechnology

Digest Notes: We haven’t yet completed our visits with the Digesterati on Triton to publish our profile, but what we see so far is more than enough to brand this “Must See (Algae) TV”: consider this — the co-founders, Jason Pyle and Steve Mayfield, also co-founded Sapphire Energy, and are turning their attention to high-value products, now that Sapphiore and others have helped establish the groundwork for an algae genetics toolkit to rival those long established for the likes of yeast and e.coli bacteria. Here, Triton Senior Scientist Beth Rasala takes us through the tool bench as Triton continues to emerge from stealth.

Biomass Production Innovation
Amit Vasavada, Program Manager, General Atomics 
Large-scale Algae Cultivation for Protein Production

Digest Notes: There’s been so much attention, rightly paid, to the lipids and carbs that algae yields, that the proteins have become somewhat, and unjustly, lost in the noise. Here, General Atomics Program Manager Amit Vasavada takes us through the opportunities on the protein side. Not only for some opportunities to, borrowing from Sir Bob Geldof, “Feed the World”, but also a a platform for innovation in the world of medicine.

Wednesday, October 2

8:30 am – 10:30 am

Cultivation Ecology
Joe Weissman, Distinguished Scientific Associate, ExxonMobil 
Algae Biofuels Program: Towards Improved Photosynthetic Efficiency

Digest Notes: You can sum it up in one word, ExxonMobil, if you consider that one word. Yes, they continue to be hot on the trail of algae-based fuels, several years after a big partnership with Synthetic Genomics nearly drowned the Golf Channel in a series of algae-related television commercials. Back from his starring role in those ads, algae rock star Joe Weissman takes us through the efforts to get the little critters to, er, breed younger and faster. Things we don’t teach our children — but are all the rage in algae — it’s the kick-off to a Big Wednesday in Orlando.

Cultivation II
Michael Wilson, Research Engineer, Center for Applied Energy Research, University of Kentucky
From Flue Gas to Fungible Fuels -Demonstration of an Algae-based System for CO2 Mitigation From Coal Fired Power Plants

Digest Notes: If the problem of excess CO2 from power plant flue stacks has somehow escaped your attention – possibly as you return from a 20-year tour of the outer solar system – well, the EPA’s proposal to regulate and clamp down on CO2 emissions from that source may have helped you re-focus. There’s nothing in the world that might help coal-rich states like West Virginia and Kentucky better and faster than a technology that can grab all that CO2 out of the stack and make fossil-fuel replacements like biofuels. From the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky, Michael Wilson takes us through the state of the art and the art of making feasible out of possible.


Photosynthesis and CO2 Fixation
Shaun Bailey, Director, Photosynthesis Research, Synthetic Genomics International 
Global Transcriptional Regulators of the Photo-Acclimation Response to Irradiance

Digest Notes: As Wednesday morning continues — if you’re not convinced that flue gas can provide all the CO2 that algae needs to achieve its destiny — well, why not look in on Synthetic Genomics’ Shaun Bailey and “Global Transcriptional Regulators of the Photo-Acclimation Response to Irradiance”. That’s short for “getting algae to breathe faster”. You will have noted that, when doing work and you need more energy, you pant harder — well, algae need to do the same thing, pant harder so they can grow faster. Or, to put it bluntly, grabbing more of those photons as they pass by and using them more efficiently. No more lazy days in the pond for modern algae — and here’s how, and why.

Commercializing Value-Added Products
Pradeep Sharma, Senior Research Engineer, Algenol Biofuels 
Anthropogenic CO2 as a Feedstock for Cyanobacteria-Based Biofuels

Digest Notes: OK, we’ve focused an awful lot on green algae — what about blue-green algae, a/k/a your friend cyanobacteria? Don’t they deserve some innovative CO2-munching technological support, too? Absolutely they do — and there’s been no more commercial love lavished on cyanobacteria anywhere in the world than in the labs and bioreractors at Algenol. They’ve been researching how to grab some of that CO2 we humans have been dumping into the atmosphere — and here’s a chance to look at how that platform is also providing power plants and the like with a credible exit from their carbon dioxide problems.

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Pete Lammers, Professor, New Mexico State University 
Bounded Opportunities: Physical, Biological, Material and Economic Constraints on Photobioreactor Design

Digest Notes: Ponds vs bioreactors, bioreactors vs ponds. It’s practically the Hatfields vs the McCoys, or Hamilton vs Burr. But, rather than settle the issue with a shootout at the OK Corral, New Mexico State’s Pete Lammers will be on stage Wednesday afternoon to take us through the latest in opportunities with PBRs, where all those predators, competitors and pests just melt away. Can they be made cheap enough, and cheap enough for what? And when, and where, and how?

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

Physiological Response to Cultivation Conditions
Todd Lane, Principal Member, Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories 
Nutrient Recycling for Sustainable Algal Mass Culture

Digest Notes: From most of the coverage of algae, you’d think that all you need is atmospheric CO2, sunlight, and some water to grow little algae anywhere you’d like. If that were the case, the ocean would be covered in it, and probably every pond in your backyard garden, too. Turns out, algae needs their vitamins to “build heathy bodies in 7 ways” just as much as you do. But, in case you haven’t been to your friendly home improvment store lately, Miracle-Grow is expensive, amigo. Making algae work — commercially — means adding those nutrients like a miser and recycling them like crazy. How to do just that – Sandia algae guru Todd Lane is on hand to take you through the techniques and the outcomes.

One more thing…

I’ll be moderating one of the first morning’s plenary sessions, on Tuesday, when the topic is “Beyond Fuel – Updates on Feed, Nutrition, and Specialty Chemicals and Products.” The conversation will feature Tim Burns, President of BioProcess Algae; Dan Simon, President & CEO of Heliae; Greg Bafalis, CEO of Aurora Algae; and Mike Van Drunen, CEO & Founder of Algix. Hope companies, all, picking up traction in the Hot 30 and Hot 50 this year — should be a great hour of discussion as we go beyond the conventional and dig into the real future in bioproducts.

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