People, Partnerships & Deals

By Algae Technology & Business Staff | April 19, 2011

1. Members of the Algal Biomass Organization went to Washington in April for a two-day fly-in visit with members of Congress on Capitol Hill to drive home the message of job creation, and technology and feedstock parity. Executive Director Mary Rosenthal says the algae industry will play a significant role in growing the U.S. economy. Rosenthal estimated there are currently more than 60 universities in 41 states that have research activities involving algae. “Right now, we feel that algae employs, either directly or indirectly, more than 20,000 workers at approximately 100 companies,” she says. “As the industry matures, based on a study we did in 2010, we expect that this industry could employ more than 200,000 skilled workers by 2022.” Rosenthal says the ABO was adamant about algae’s inclusion as part of the cellulosic biofuel carve-out in the RFS2 and that it receives the same $1.01 per gallon cellulosic biofuel production tax credit. Additionally, the ABO advocated continued funding from the DOE, defense department and USDA to continue not only R&D developments today, but also to further scale-up efforts towards commercialization. The ABO visit consisted of more than 40 meetings with various members of Congress.

2. PetroAlgae has formed a partnership to upgrade the Melbourne, Fla.-based company’s algae oil technology, and the upgrade comes from known, traditional methods: catalysts. Through a new agreement with Haldor Topsoe A/S and its U.S. subsidiary Haldor Topsoe Inc., PetroAlgae will now use catalysts provided from the subsidiary’s Houston headquarters to enhance the oils produced through its algae refining process that includes coking and pyrolysis. The agreement will also allow PetroAlgae to test the algae biomass produced from its system in refinery cokers and “validate the commercial viability” of the process according to John Scott, chairman of PetroAlgae. In a statement on the partnership, Niels Sorenson, CEO for Haldor Topsoe A/S, touts the ability of PetroAlgae to produce at a cost-competitive level compared to fossil fuels, adding that “Haldor Topsoe is committed to renewable fuels and we are excited about implementing projects that will help reach the goals set for renewable fuels around the world.”

3. Atlanta is the new home for an Australia-based algae developer’s photobioreactor manufacturing facility. The 18,000 square foot plant will fabricate Algae.Tec’s algae production system that is based on readily available technology, according to Peter Hatfull, managing director for the company. Hatfull spoke with Algae Technology & Business about the new plant and the company’s establishment of a level-one American Depository Receipt Program that will allow Americans to buy stock in the company during his North American tour. Hatfull says, “The nice thing about the technology is that we are using a relatively standard 40-foot shipping container, which is available just about anywhere.” The Algae.Tec platform is based around a controlled environment within the shipping container that maximizes surface area and sunlight penetration, allowing the algae to grow. The systems are suited for carbon capture and algae oil production, the company says. Hatfull explains that all of the cost estimates have been for a 500-module system, which he says is a relatively small plant. “If we look at a 500-module plant, the capital cost for putting that together, everything from light collectors, CO2 collectors and engineering costs, is about $64 million.” He says each module is about $125,000.

4. Morrisville, Penn.-based BARD Holdings Inc. recently announced its shift from research and development to the commercialization phase of its algae production technology. According to Avery Hong, BARD’s chief global strategist, the company has completed the first phase of its production rollout. Its initial facility, located in Morrisville, is expected to produce approximately 40,000 gallons of algae oil per year. “We are a photobioreactor-based company,” Hong says. “We’re using photobioreactor tubes and we’re using an artificial light source as the light energy.” The system is able to operate 24-7, he says, and the closed-loop system also mitigates problems associated with contamination and culture crashes. In fact, Hong notes that BARD has yet to experience a culture crash, and expects that track record to continue. In addition, the system is scalable and modular, and units can be brought online with a relatively short lead time, partly because the photobioreactor equipment can be installed in existing industrial spaces such as unutilized warehouses. Hong has ambitious expansion goals. “Our production schedule is to get significant [capacity] up and running in 2011,” he says. “BARD’s expansion schedule is not a mid-decade [timeframe].” Rather, plans are already underway to bring capacity online as soon as possible.  By late summer, BARD has plans to be operating a second production facility, which will feature 280,000 to 300,000 additional gallons of algae oil production.

5. Ft. Collins, Colo.-based integrated algal technology developer Solix Biofuels Inc. has secured $16 million from inside investors as part of a Series B finance round. Bohemian Ventures, The Southern Ute Alternative Energy Fund and I2BF Global Ventures all participated in the round. In conjunction with the financing, Solix changed its name to Solix BioSystems to better reflect its role as a leading provider of algal production systems. According to Joanna Money, vice president of business development for Solix, the new funding will help drive the commercialization of the company’s trademarked algae growth system—or AGS—which utilizes Solix’s proprietary, high-productivity photobioreactors. Additionally, Money told Algae Technology & Business that the impetus behind Solix’s name change is aimed towards a customer base that may be interested in deploying its technology within a build/operate model. Since 2008, Solix has successfully demonstrated the viability of its AGS technology at its pilot facility in Ft. Collins. In 2009, Solix successfully scaled its AGS technology at its Coyote Gulch demonstration plant near Durango, Colo., which features three algae cultivation basins on three-quarters of an acre. The plant has more than 150,000 liters of algae under cultivation, according to the company. In 2010, Solix produced 3,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year in its Lumian AGS4000, according the company, and has cultivated algae continuously in its Lumian AGS for 3 years with no culture crashes.

6. James Liao, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA, has developed an algae process for biorefining that, when compared to current process methods focused on lipid extraction, is just the opposite. Liao and his team from UCLA published their findings after three years of work, and he explained to Algae Technology & Business what they found during their research. “Basically,” he says, “we’ve developed a technology that can use protein as a raw material for a biorefinery, and for making biofuels.” The way people are currently utilizing algae is by artificially starving the algae to induce the strains to produce lipids, which will eventually be extracted and used as oil for biofuels. In this process, Liao explains, the algae species become sick and don’t grow as well or as fast as they otherwise may. “We reasoned that if we could use proteins as a resource instead of lipids,” he says, “we could bypass many of these difficulties.” Liao believes his approach to algae benefits from the fact that certain proteins that cannot be used for food are the main components in photosynthesis and carbon dioxide fixation. “The protein is a machine that harvests the energy that fixates the CO2,” he says. “So if you want a cell to grow fast, you need the cell to have a lot of proteins. If we want the cell to fixate a lot of CO2, to grow very fast, to fixate a lot of sunlight, the cell needs a lot of proteins to do the job.”

7. Monsanto Co. is entering the algae business after announcing a collaborative effort with Sapphire Energy to utilize Sapphire’s algae research abilities. Monsanto hopes to discover genes that could potentially increase crop yield or reduce crop stress in one of its core products, corn, cotton or soybeans. The new algae venture is a first for Monsanto, Kelli Powers of Monsanto’s public affairs department tells Algae Technology & Business. “For us, we have a pipeline and obviously that first step in our pipeline is discovery,” Powers says. “We see algae research that Sapphire is doing as a promising tool to screen genes early in that discovery process and to identify promising traits that could help with yield and stress.” The research efforts will take place at one of Sapphire’s New Mexico locations, and according to Powers the work will begin right away. Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer, says the research will help the agricultural developer find promising genes faster, and the two companies “face a common goal in looking for ways to improve upon an organism’s ability to achieve greater productivity under optimal and suboptimal environmental conditions.” For Sapphire, the announcement with Monsanto comes only a week after the company was listed by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 most promising clean technology companies.

8. California-based Aurora Algae has completed construction on its demonstration-scale facility in Western Australia. According to Scott McDonald, Aurora Algae’s chief financial officer, the facility is currently undergoing commissioning and inoculation, and is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of March. The company has also established new corporate headquarters in Hayward, Calif. CEO Greg Bafalis says, “Our new facilities in Hayward and Australia were completed ahead of schedule and under budget, accelerating our ability to support and drive our initial customer and partner engagements. The combination of our proprietary algae strains and production process, combined with the ideal growing conditions of Western Australia, will fundamentally change the economics of algae production.” Aurora Algae’s technology is focused on the use of open raceway ponds to cultivate algae. According to McDonald, the company’s ponds have been specifically designed to be energy efficient, thereby increasing the economical feasibility of algae production. “A lot of it has to do with fluid dynamics,” he says. “And, being able to do that in an energy efficient way. A primary cost of operating open ponds is the movement of water…which requires power. The fluid dynamics and the way [our] raceways are constructed allow for less consumption of energy.” The Australian demo includes six one-acre raceway ponds, four 400-square meter ponds, and four 50-square meter ponds.

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