Ubiquitous and easy to grow, algae has long been a promising biomass-to-fuel candidate in the eyes of researchers. Now algae is a burgeoning sector in biofuels with several high-profile start-ups, including Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics, and the interest of big-time investors like Bill Gates and ExxonMobil. Of course, hurdles still exist to make a competitive fuel. Algal biofuels still cost too much to produce—over $8 a gallon (pdf), according to the DOE. Furthermore, most existing strains do not yield oil in the quantities needed to quickly scale up to commercial production of biofuels. Companies also need to worry about contaminating local ecosystems and the amount of water needed to grow cultures in large batches. Despite these challenges inroads—and actual fuel—are being made in the nascent field. Here are 5 projects leading the pack today.
As America’s dependence on foreign oil continues to grow, investors are looking to alternative fuels to usher in a new age of energy usage.
And San Diego is emerging as a leader in the clean technology sector, with 672 companies focused on clean tech in the region.
The significant increase in activity was a highlight of an event last week kicking off the 2009 Algae Biomass Summit held in San Diego Oct. 7-9.
The event was hosted by CleanTech San Diego, a nonprofit organization focused on accelerating local leadership in the clean tech sector.
San Diego is such a heavyweight in biofuel research that a cluster of labs and experimentation sites that cropped up in La Jolla in recent years has taken on the name Biotech Beach.
It’s home to dozens of companies collaborating on projects to produce marketable fuel products from sources ranging from corn to algae to cooking oil.
Sapphire Energy, which intends to be the leading producer of renewable petrochemical products derived from algae, is building, with the cooperation of a number of partners, a 300-acre demonstration Integrated Algal Biorefinery designed to produce renewable gasoline, diesel and jet economically from an algal feedstock.
Sapphire Energy CEO Jason Pyle, who has had a hand in start-ups in medical engineering and biotechnology, now is developing algae-based fuels that have already propelled planes and a car.
SAN DIEGO — Tim Zenk is surrounded by green. In a lab near California’s coast, shades of emerald, lime and chartreuse fill petri dishes, beakers, 14-foot plastic bags and long swirling pools.
To many, algae is little more than pond scum, a nuisance to swimmers and a frustration to boaters.
But to a growing community of scientists and investors in Southern California, there is oil locked in all that slimy stuff, and several dozen companies are racing to try to figure how best to unleash it and produce an affordable biofuel.
Forget the summer of love. This is truly turning into the summer of algae.
More advanced than it appears.The renewable energy and law blog of Stoel Rives LLP, a big law firm in the western U.S, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency will count algae as an advanced biofuel under Renewable Fuel Standard rules being developed. The EPA is said to be encouraged by recent interest in algae by heavyweights such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical.
California-based alternative fuel company Sapphire Energy is already producing gasoline from algae that meets current standards and expects to produce by 2011 one million gallons (3.8 million liters) of biodiesel and jet fuel per year.
“Fuel from algae is not just a laboratory experiment or something to speculate on for years to come,” said Sapphire vice president Brian Goodall.
What does this bode for other high-profile algae-to-energy companies?
“We think it’s good for algae, and good for us,” said Tim Zenk, VP of Corporate Affairs for Sapphire Energy. “The research collaboration announced today sends a loud and clear message that drop-in-replacement liquid transportation fuel produced from algae, above all other biologic choices, is the most viable option to replace crude oil.