Great big things from tiny lil’ algae: 10 Algae Trends for 2013

February 19, 2013 |

microalgae22 projects around the world show the multi-faceted promise of algae.

Concrete, polyurethane, bioplastics, cosmetics and, oh, fuels — so many big things to make from algae, it’s become a big deal.

Recently, the Algae Biomass Organization reported that during the course of 2012, ABO added more than 150 new members for 2012 and 2013, including 99 that signed up during the Algae Biomass Summit this past September in Denver, Colorado. ABO further stated that their new memberships reflected a wider range of industries in 2012, driven by the increasing impact of algae technology as an economical and environmental source of sustainable fuels, chemicals, food and other valued-added products. That’s for sure.

While fuels remain the driver at Sapphire Energy and a key part of the strategy at Solazyme and Aurora Algae, among other companies — the big action has been in the growth of projects targeting biobased molecules and, increasingly, biomaterials.

Some data? The US thermoplastic market is over 375 billion lbs per year- and the total bioplastic market reached $3 billion in 2009, and is growing at a 22% rate. So, the time for that technology has come.

Turns out that you can make a lot of stuff — big stuff — via one-celled organisms. Here are the top 10 trends

1. Bioconcrete building materials

Just after Christmas, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya researchers announced that they have developed and patented a type of biological concrete that supports the natural, accelerated growth of pigmented organisms.

The material consists of a conventional carbonated concrete and a magnesium phosphate cement that are layered to provide a space for the growth and development of certain biological organisms, to be specific, certain families of microalgae, fungi, lichens and mosses. The resulting façades regulate thermal conductivity, absorbs and reduces atmospheric CO2, and adds a unique architectural color and texture to buildings.

2. Plastics and polyurethanes

In December, Cereplast announced the commercialization of Cereplast Algae Bioplastics with the introduction of Biopropylene 109D.  Cereplast identified a post-industrial algae source, allowing the company to commercialize Cereplast Algae Bioplastics sooner than anticipated. Additionally, Cereplast R&D has discovered a post-industrial process that significantly reduces the odor that is typically inherent to algae biomatter. Biopropylene 109D is an injection molding grade manufactured with 20% post-industrial algae biomatter.

The algae biomass used are byproducts from algae biofuels and nutritionals, resulting from industrial processing to extract specialty chemicals. In October, Dordan introduced the first ever thermoformed sample of Algix’s algae-plastic in its 3rd Annual Bio Resin Show N Tell. The thermoformed bioplastic derives up to 70% of its feedstock from aquatic biomass obtained from nitrogen and phosphorus-rich waste-water and blend with various concentrations of PE, PP, EVA, PLA, TPS, PHA etc.

After several months of R&D, Dordan successfully thermoformed the algae-plastic, demonstrating the bioresin’s versatility and application to thermoforming.

Back in September, Malama Composites announced the launch of the first bio-based rigid polyurethane foam made specifically for artists, sculptors and the industrial design community.

3. Cosmetic ingredients

Hardly a giant product, unless someone constructs a lipstick as big as a building. But it’s big business, cosmetics.

In January, Air Liquide has acquired BiotechMarine by its subsidiary SEPPIC. BiotechMarine is a company that specializes in the design and marketing of bio-based, cosmetic active ingredients made from algae. BiotechMarine is based in the west of France, in the town of Pontrieux, and has 35 employees. The acquisition of BiotechMarine will provide SEPPIC with complementary expertise in marine biotechnologies and plant cell culture.

4. Food ingredients

Solazyme Roquette’s Almagine HL offers an alternative to traditional lipids while delivering taste, sensorial and functional benefits to the finished product. Derived from microalgae, Almagine HL is a pure, sustainable, whole food ingredient rich in healthy lipids and containing protein, carbohydrate (polysaccharides, fiber and simple sugars), emulsifiers and numerous micronutrients such as lutein. As a multicomponent ingredient, Almagine HL allows product developers to formulate with less fat and/or less egg/egg yolk. 5. Nutraceuticals

In January, Solarvest Bioenergy completed negotiations to acquire a 30,000 sq. ft. facility in Summerville, Prince Edward Island. Solarvest has acquired the facility on a lease to own basis for $436,000 with an 8-year term.  Solarvest expects the planned renovation will be completed in the second quarter of 2013 with pilot production to begin mid to late 2013. The initial commercial nutraceutical products will be produced from algae strains that are generating high levels of Omega-3 DHA/EPA. The Company has successfully produced laboratory scale batches and is now in a position to scale up production from pilot batch to commercial production.

Earlier this month, Globes reported that UK-based Grovepoint Capital had bought a controlling interest in Algatechnologies. The company produces a cosmeticeutical and nutritional supplement, astazanthin, from Haematococcus pluvialis, a microalgae. According to the article, Algatechnologies is valued at $50 million dollars.

6. Industrial symbiosis: Sahara Forest

In Qatar last December, we reported that Norwegian company Yara had teamed with the Qatari government on the Sahara Forest project that will use solar power and sea water to produce food crops such as tomatoes, cucumber, melon, fodder crops, freshwater, clean energy, salt, algae and for biofuel.The metrics? A commercial scale project of 4,000 hectares would supply enough power for the project and export 325GWh a year in addition to 7,500 tonnes of algae oil, and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food and fodder crops.

Traditionally, production systems are set up as a linear process – transferring resources into products, but also ending up with various waste-streams as a consequence. In biological systems this linear process is very rarely encountered. Organisms that waste resources and energy have very low chances for success. The direction that nature points technology towards is clear — technological systems where the waste product from one technology is used as resource for another.

Among the projects — a state-of-the-art 50 m3 algae test facility – the only of its kind in Qatar and the larger region – enables commercial-scale research on the cultivation of marine algae species native to the Gulf and Red Sea for use as nutriceuticals, biofuels, and as animal and fish fodder.

7. Cultivation, harvest and processing: The R&D beat goes on

In January, the US Department of Energy announced a “Advancements in Algal Biomass Yield” Funding Opportunity of up to $10 million to help unlock the potential of biofuels made from algae. The funding will support research projects aimed at boosting the productivity of algae cultivation systems and developing and demonstrating effective, energy-efficient, and low-cost algae harvest and processing technologies, such as centrifugation and extraction. The objective of the funding opportunity is to demonstrate, at a process development unit scale of one (1) acre cultivation equivalent, algal biofuel intermediate yield of 2,500 gallons of biofuel feedstock (or equivalent dry weight basis) per acre per year by 2018.

The Biomass Technologies Office believes this target is an important milestone in reducing the cost of algal biofuels to cost-competitive levels on the way to achieving 5,000 gallons per acre by 2022.

Meanwhile, earlier this month scientists reported investigating an enzyme that naturally produces alkanes and have discovered a method to lengthen the natural reaction. Said biochemist John Shanklin, “biologically produced alkanes could be extracted and used directly of fuel.” The scientists, stationed out of Brookhaven National Laboratory, are currently working on installing the enzyme into algae or green plants.

8. Fuels

In January, Algae.Tec announced approval from the Australian Government for an AU$12.15 million cash refund on Australian and overseas development expenditure for the financial years 30 June 2012 to 30 June 2015. The terms of the payment allow for an initial $27 million spend on Algae.Tec technology developments, of which the Australian Government will reimburse 45% or $12.15 million. The approval is to support the funding of at least three algae bioreactor facilities in Australia, Asia and the US.

In the UAE, Lootah Biofuels has teamed with Singapore-based AlgaOil to produce biodiesel in the region while initial lab tests are expected early in 2013. Widespread production in the desert isn’t seen for at least 20 to 30 years, however.

9. Integrated product production

In January, former Ryanair CEO Declan Ryan joined investors in backing Aer Sustainable Energy Ltd, better known as Aer Bio. He was a director of Ryanair Holdings from August 1986 until 2004, holding several senior management positions including CEO. It’s billed as a cheap, efficient extraction process from a company that’s “ruthlessly focused on a technology, elegant and simple, that breaks down the cell wall to release the oils and sugars,” according at AER Bio CEO Donal Mac Nioclais.

“The Idea of trying enzymatic hydrolysis with algae is not new, but this is a modified organism, specifically optimized for this problem – to lyse the cell wall. Isn’t that the story of technology? First you have the generics, then the customized solutions.”

Back in December, Algasol reported that it will be collaborating with industrial equipment provider GIAN.MAI srl for floating PhotoBioReactor (PBR) technology as they create a 4000m2 pilot facility. The project will later scale to 20 hectares and will recover CO2 from industrial smoke stacks, perform wastewater treatment, and utilize algae biomass for various applications.

Earlier this month, Solazyme and Mitsui announced that they have entered into a $20 million multi-year agreement to jointly develop a suite of triglyceride oils for use primarily in the oleochemical industry. The agreement includes further development of Solazyme’s breakthrough high myristic algal oil, a valuable raw material in the oleochemical industry, as well as additional oils that Solazyme is developing for the oleochemical and industrial sectors.

Product development is expected to span a multi-year period, with periodic product introductions throughout the term of the joint development alliance. End use applications may include renewable, high-performance polymer additives for plastic applications, aviation lubricants, and toiletry and household products.

In January, Muradel’s two-year pilot algae project has been approved by the Whyalla City Council. The council agreed to lease the project two hectares for the feedstock production trials. Muradel is a JV between Murdoch University, the University of Adelaide and private sector partner SQC that was launched in 2010. The hope is that after the success of the two hectare project with two 20 square metre ponds that the technology will be scaled up to 1,000 hectares.

10. Remediation

Earlier this month, OriginOil announced that its Solids Out of Solution technology will help the aquaculture industry reduce toxin levels and adopt algae as fish feed on a wide scale. Building on its initial successful lab results, OriginOil has agreed to develop a cooperative partnership with WeFeedUs, a Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based aquaculture company, to test and validate OriginOil’s proprietary water decontamination and algae harvesting technologies for aquaculture systems in the field.

Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil CEO stated, “But heavy toxin levels limit growth and are unhealthy for the fish and the environment. We believe that we may be able to do something about that. We also believe that we may be able to help this industry adopt algae for feed on a much greater scale.”

In January, researchers are working with a red tide algae, dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, to improve nerve function in stroke patients. The team, headed by Creighton University School of Medicines’ Dr. Thomas Murray, is trying to find a therapeutic level for the brevetoxin produced by the algae. In article in, Dr. Murray is quoted as saying, ” What we are doing is finally determining the concentration at which the brevetoxin can exert positive therapeutic effects rather than the overwhelming toxic effects.”

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