Heard on the Floor at the Algae Biomass Summit

September 18, 2019 |

We know this about algae. They’re small, they die off quickly in great numbers, and every time you look around there’s more of them coming, there’s more diversity every day, but the pace of algae birth (think minutes) exceeds the pace of algae evolution (think millennia).

Pretty much sums up the algae industry these days. Couple of good trends to point to:

1. Lot more emphasis on farms and farming these days. It’s still an industry dominated by people in white coats, but there are some more overalls around the ABS than we’ve ever seen before.

2. A little more emphasis on commercial apps can be seen, but it’s not exactly Hollywood-grade product marketing, yet. Not as many blue blazers and khaki marketing mavens as one would like to see.

3. Food, food, food. Algae technology fits the food cost profile better than other large sectors such as fuels or commodity chemicals, and the industry has learned a lot about mouth feel, odor and taste profiles. And more than a few have noticed companies like Beyond Meat headed towards the valuation stratosphere, and said, “hey, algae’s vegan, too”. But when you look at Corbion’s progress with AlgaPrime DHA product line, you begin to realize that the industry is out of diapers now. Algae is a crop, and food is the anciently obvious thing we do with crops. Algama says that consumers are looking for new products, large companies are losing big, innovation is being outsourced, and algae has a big opportunity. Barriers include the high cost of biomass, taste factors and a lack of products (so far) meeting market demands.

4. Clean my water! There are more people at ABS shopping water purification systems than actually buying them but the offerings are stronger now, the technologies more mature.

5. Investors are a little on the scarce side. Still an awful lot of DOE money powering this sector, which keeps companies from actually shouting “fuels are impossible” from the algae rooftops, but sometimes you get the impression that fuels people are putting up the money for food technologies. An interesting development for those readers who survived food vs fuel.

6. News arrived that Cellana, ASU LightWorks and the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation have expanded on a partnership which first began with the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership. Under a new MOU, Cellana’s proprietary algae strains will continue to be maintained at AzCATI and available for potential joint R&D by the parties to optimize the performance of such strains, as well as for evaluation by potential investors and strategic partners of Cellana and other third parties. Concurrently with the MOU, Cellana has entered into a Material Transfer Agreement with AzCATI to make certain of Cellana’s proprietary algae strains available to third parties for testing.

7. News arrived that DOE selected the St. Louis-based Danforth Center to lead Deep Green, a multi-institutional collaboration that will predict functions for hundreds of uncharacterized plant genes that could be important to stress tolerance in a range of potential bioenergy crops. They are starting from a set of hundreds of “Deep Green” genes that are shared among land plants and their green algal relatives, but with unknown functions. These Deep Green genes are likely to play important roles in photosynthetic cells, but have not previously been studied. Stress and drought tolerance are among the targets.

8. In Japan, Mazda is working on carbon-neutral biofuel by giving funding to the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Hiroshima University so researchers can look at genome editing and plant physiology, including microalgae specifically for biofuel. Autocar reported that “Mazda anticipates a gradual transition to biofuel, if that path is taken, with both fuels coexisting for a period until engineered fuel usurps petrol.” Mazda is also preparing to launch its first electric vehicle as it looks to alternative ways to lower the automobiles carbon footprint. As reported in The Digest in November 2018, Mazda as well as several other car manufacturers are looking at algae as an alternative fuel for vehicles.

9. Biomar says that the future of aqua feeds includes more single cell protein and more ingredients from lower trophic levels, and the majority of the diet will still be vegetable.

10. From the Philippines we are receiving reports that OrbitX, the country’s first space start-up, is developing reusable rockets that will be fueled by liquid methane produced from biogas that uses algae as feedstock. The rockets will fly on a mixture of liquid methane with liquid oxygen. The Philippines recently created a national space agency but those launches are handled by international agencies due to lack of domestic capacity so the startup is looking to fill that gap.

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