Business Briefs

People, Partnerships & Deals
By Algae Technology & Business Staff | October 03, 2011

1. Finnish renewable diesel producer Neste Oil has launched a joint algae research program with the Marine Research Centre at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) in an effort to further expand its feedstock portfolio by potentially incorporating algal oil as a raw material for the production of NExBTL, the company’s trademarked renewable diesel product. Launched in August, the two-year research program with SYKE will focus on testing the lipid production capacity of different types of algal strains and analyzing how the quality and quantity of the lipids could be optimized by adjusting the conditions under which algae are grown. Since 2008, the use of planktonic algae has been studied as a source of bioenergy during several national and international projects at SYKE’s Marine Research Centre. The main objective has been screening and optimizing the lipid production capacity of algae strains isolated from the Baltic Sea. According to Neste Oil, the suitability of algal oil for use in the NExBTL process has already been confirmed as it’s already working with a number of international research institutions, universities and companies in the algae research arena. The company announced this summer that it would take part in two new international algae research projects in Australia and Netherlands. Besides algae, the company intends to use jatropha and camelina oils to produce NExBTL.

2. University of Illinois researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of California-Berkeley, have engineered a unique yeast strain that is capable of converting nonterrestrial biomass, red seaweed, into cellulosic ethanol rather quickly. According to the researchers, when hydrolyzed red seaweed yields glucose and galactose, but typical yeast have an appetite for glucose and won’t consume galactose until glucose is gone. To counter this, researchers engineered a Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain that expressed genes coding for a new sugar transporter, cellodextrin, and an enzyme, beta-glucosidase, that’s capable of breaking down cellobiose, a dimeric form of glucose, at the intracellular level. The result is a yeast strain that can coferment cellobiose and galactose simultaneously, which decreases the production time of ethanol by half. While ethanol was produced via this unique process, the researchers intend to shift toward producing other higher alcohols such as isobutanol with the same process.

3. The U.K.’s National Non-Food Crops Centre has been chosen to investigate the environmental impacts of algae-based bioenergy. The NNFCC was chosen by the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council special algae group called the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group, because the NNFCC works closely with the British government, industry and other research councils. The study to assess the environmental impact of algae-based energy in the form of fuel or biobased chemical use will help ensure algal biofuels avoid the controversy associated with conventional biofuels. In addition to assessing the environmental impact, the work done by NNFCC will also help the region to formulate a long-term plan for algae. The report will include reference documents for policymakers, including tips and requirements needed to help the U.K.’s algae industry succeed.

4. Vertically-integrated algae developer Aurora Algae received $22 million in funding in a round led by Oak Investment Partners and other existing investors, along with an undisclosed foreign strategic investor. The funding in its latest round will help the company execute plans for construction of its commercial facility in Maitland, Western Australia, for which the company secured 610 hectares (approximately 1,500 acres) of land earlier this year, and expand operations at its laboratory located in Hayward, Calif., including its 20-acre demonstration-scale site in Karratha, Western Australia. Earlier this year, Aurora Algae completed construction of its demonstration-scale facility in Karratha and is fully operational. The company says its ponds have been specifically designed to be energy efficient, thereby increasing the economical feasibility of algae production. The Karratha facility features six one-acre raceway ponds, four 400-square meter ponds and four 50-square meter ponds. In June, MWH and John Holland were awarded the initial engineering contract for design and construction of Aurora Algae’s facility in Maitland. This facility will be equipped to manufacture algae-based biomass for production of sustainable products in the nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, aquaculture and renewable energy markets.

5. Solazyme Inc. has signed a framework agreement to form a joint-venture with Bunge Global Innovation LLC, the agribusiness giant and sugarcane company based in Brazil. The goal is to design and build a facility to produce renewable oils in time for the 2013 sugarcane harvest. Solazyme said it will leverage its own technology with “Bunge’s sugarcane milling and natural oil processing capabilities” to produce a triglyceride-based oil for chemical applications. Both parties will contribute to financing the project, and through the agreement, Solazyme will receive additional compensation for its technology contributions. The facility will be located at an existing mill site in Brazil and will produce roughly 100,000 metric tons of renewable oil. Solazyme’s technology is based on the use of heterotrophic algae strains that can thrive in the dark. The microalgae used by the company is placed in industrial fermenters and fed sugars to increase the volume of oil present in the strains. One of the company’s products, a luxury skincare product called Algenist, recently got a boost when Solazyme signed an agreement with a United Kingdom beauty retailer, Space NK, to carry the product in 60 stores. The Algenist product contains an anti-aging acid called alguronic acid. In addition to Space NK’s use of the Solazyme product, companies in the U.S., including QVC and The Shopping Channel, and Canada offer the product.

6. Evodos BV, an algae technology developer based in Netherlands, believes the company’s spiral plate centrifuge created for the harvesting of algae will give algae harvesting a positive energy balance. Tests show that the centrifugal system can run below 1 kWh per cubic meter, costing roughly €0.08 per kilo of dry material produced. The core of the technology is based on improvements to the centrifugal system including separation efficiency that the company explains is related to the short distance a particle has to travel in the unit, the extended delay time that particle has to travel and the use of a Y-flow approach, which has no counter flows. To separate the algal biomass in the unit from the water, the biomass is spun in the unit and the collected particles settle into a spiral rack, which forms a solid cake. When the solid cake becomes too thick, the ends of the plates are removed and a sliding drum containing the spiral plates and the solid biomass is pulled up, out of the unit for the removal of the cake. Evodos believes its system performs well because any free liquid is removed before the cake is discharged.

7. Dublin, Ohio-based Independence Bio-Products has been issued a patent for its open pond algae production system. The patent covers methods and systems for growing algae in water with a heating source, drying the algae with a heat source, and as an alternative to a heat source, partially covering the body of water where the algae is grown. According to the company, heat recovery systems, algae processing systems and covers are also included under the patent. IBP’s technology features a system that heats algae ponds with heat recovered from power plants and other manufacturing facilities. Information released by the company states that the system is designed to maintain water temperatures within precise temperature ranges in order to optimize algae production. The method prevents ponds located in cold weather regions from freezing over, allowing algae to be cultivated year round. The method to dry the algae also utilizes waste heat sourced from adjacent power plants or industrial facilities. IBP operates a demonstration project adjacent to a power plant in Shadyside, Ohio, and is working to develop commercial operations in Texas.

8. Life Technologies Corp. introduces its GeneArt Algae Engineering Kits, the first commercially available genetic modification and expression systems for algal organisms Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Synechococcus elongatus. Until now, researchers have relied on colleagues and culture collections to obtain cells, vectors, cloning tools, and protocols for working with these important model organisms. Cells from these sources often ship on agar slants that could become contaminated and have low survival rates. Additionally, vectors from uncontrolled sources could contain undocumented changes, leading to further wasted time. The GeneArt Chlamydomonas Engineering Kit and GeneArt Synechoccus Engineering Kits combine optimized cloning and expression vectors, frozen cells, and simple protocols to create the first standardized, complete system for algae research and metabolic engineering. Guaranteed purity and standardized cells and vectors ensure reliable results and fast ramp up to bioproduction scale. The kits allow researchers to create transformed algal cells in just seven to 10 days, standardize experiments with genetically consistent frozen cell stocks, save time required for strain optimization and transition to bioproduction, and rest easy with guaranteed strain viability and purity.

9. OpenAlgae, a Houston-based algae developer formed in 2008 with help from the University of Texas, released its algae processor and accompanying technology this summer. With help from UT’s Center for Electromechanics, the company came up with a lysing process that is used to separate the lipids out of the algae cells. Over the past two years, the team of UT researchers, with the help of OpenAlgae, has run tests on the processing unit that features the lysing electromechanical unit on a dual axle modular trailer, processing roughly 30,000 gallons of algae water. The difference between the OpenAlgae approach, the company said, is that this process doesn’t require a drying step for the algal biomass, a hexane extraction step or a centrifugation step. While electroporation is used as a process to open cells for genetic modifications, this process instead permanently opens the cells, essentially killing them. UT, which owns half of the technology, developed the electromechanical process for extracting additional sugar out of sugarcane and sugar beets.


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