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The 10 Hottest Trends in Algae

Submitted by on March 4, 2014 – 7:08 pmNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  Algae has been touted as the ultimate platform for fuels, chemicals, nutraceuticals, proteins — even cancer therapies.

There’s been a rate of progress that would impress any devotee of Moore’s Law — and a series of wacky claims that would impress any devotee of P.T. Barnun.

So, what are the real trends?

We’ve traveled several years now since the “Summer of Algae” when it seemed like half the venture capitalists in life sciences were forming algae ventures, or thinking about them. Since then — a cluster of research projects and proto-companies have been tackling the real-world challenges of yield, harvesting, dewatering and application development.

In today’s Digest, we’ve identified the Top 10 Trends that should be commanding your attention.

1. Big Oil, L’il algae  … The Algae.Tec  solution is less than one tenth the land footprint of pond growth options, while its enclosed module system is designed to deliver the highest yield of algae per hectare, and solves the problem of food-producing land being turned over for biofuel production.

In November,Sapphire Energy and Phillips 66 announced a strategic joint development agreement to work together to collect and analyze data from co-processing of algae and conventional crude oil into fuels, and to complete fuel certifications to ready Sapphire Energy’s renewable crude oil for wide-scale oil refining.

2. Making Mo’ Better   …Hence it was big news when, last March, Algenol confirmed that the company had exceeded production rates of 9,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year — and company CEO Paul Woods said that ” I fully expect our talented scientific team to achieve sustained production rates above 10,000 by the end of this year.”

3. Scale … (P)roduction at the (Solazyme) ADM and ANP facilities is expected to ramp to a nameplate capacity of 20,000 MT/yr within 12-18 months, with targeted potential expansion to 100,000 MT/yr in subsequent years. The company noted, in a release, that “truckloads of product are now shipping from the Iowa operations for use in applications including lubricants, metalworking and home and personal care. These shipments are being made pursuant to multiple supply agreements as well as spot purchases, and include reorders.”

3. Bring on the Apps  …We may well see companies like Heliae selling licenses for its production technology to customers who in turn license and introduce  apps, to generate fuels, chemicals, nutraceuticals, as well as complex proteins, enzymes, and other biologics that are cost-effective and have immediate applications in agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other retail markets.

Proteins. … With expected improvements in the ability to express proteins in algae, “and the continued reduction in algal biomass cost associated with the large scale efforts to use algae for biofuel production, we anticipate at least a ten-fold reduction in the costs over the next few years, which should make algal protein production the least expensive platform available.” (Dr. Steve Mayfield)

Nutraceuticals. In September, Algaeon announced the signing of a multi-year, multi-million dollar supply agreement with Valensa International to provide high value “condition specific” nutraceuticals to the marketplace.

DHA. This is the secret ingredient in Fish Oil or Omega-3s sold at your pharmacy for its health benefit. In late 2011, Sofiprotéol, the industrial and financial arm of the French plant oils and proteins sector, established a JV with Fermentalg to “industrialize, produce and market oils from microalgae that are rich in oils from the Omega 3 family (EPA-DHA)” — with a goal of assuring “the development of its patented process until the early scale-up phases of its technology.”

Hybrid platforms. Last year, Cellana announced the launch of its ReNew brand and ReNew Omega-3 line of algae-based products. The ReNew brand was developed to meet the growing demand for more sustainable Omega-3 human health products, animal nutrition products, and biofuel feedstocks. The ReNew portfolio is comprised of four main product categories: ReNew Omega-3, including both  ReNew Omega-3 products includes ReNewEPA and ReNewDHA, ReNew Feed as a nutritional product for the animal feed market; ReNew Fuel as an algae-based biocrude, particularly for jet fuels for commercial and military aircraft; and ReNew Algae, available in bulk for customers to apply their own extraction technologies and develop customized solutions within these application areas.

By August 2013 Aurora said it was looking to move its planned commercial-scale project algae project to Geraldton, Australia where it already has a test project. It has stated that it needs to expand from 6-acre system to 250 acres to be commercially successful.

The company’s key technology – an optimized strain of salt-water algae that is lighter in color than wild-type algae—allows deeper penetration of sunlight, thereby extending the zone for algae reproduction and increasing yield.

4. No more venting money, er, I mean CO2. … Then there’s the flue stack — which you might as well call the Money Stack, becasue of all the money that is vented every time a company vents CO2. One of the most interesting plays in algae to use it as a means of monetizing CO2 ‚— turning it from a headache into an opportunity.

5. Extremophiles   … Organisms that love unusual heat or pressure conditions that make them very robust in algae growth systems (for example, algae that can tolerate hot temperatures can out-compete other swimmers in the pond). So, consider this:  scientists are researching the production of oil-producing algae, as well the feasibility of commercial-scale biofuel production based on microbes discovered in Yellowstone National Park.

6. The Pyromaniax     Hitherto, most algae systems have relied on extraction. That is, grow the algae, dewatering, then extract the valuable oils or proteins. But a number of ventures, such as Sapphire Energy and Algenol, are looking to pyrolylze the whole algae or algae residues.

In Washington state, engineers have created a continuous chemical process that produces useful crude oil minutes after they pour in harvested algae.

7. One word. Plastics.   … In December, the Institute for Plastic Technology in Valencia profiled its EU program looking into various materials that can be produced from algae to create adhesives, paints and dyes using a technology developed by Alicante-based Biofuel Systems.

8. Scrubbers   Then, there is algae’s abilities not only as a product, but as a platform for scrubbing wastewater — which has been a use for algae for years. But recently, algae’s abilities to scrub out highly toxic materials has been put to the test.  Last month in Japan, a research group led by Yoshihiro Shiraiwa of the University of Tsukuba identified seventeen microalgae,aquatic plants and algae that are able to efficiently remove radioactive cesium, iodine and strontium from the environment…

9. Kelp is On the Way    … In California, researchers from Bio Architecture Lab published in the journal Nature an alginate monomer transporter they discovered that will help to significantly boost the efficiency of cellulosic ethanol production from brown macroalgaes. Using fermentation, the researchers were able to achieve 83% theoretical yield from the sugars.

10. Building the better mousetrap algae. … Bulding a better algae through genetic enhancement.   READ MORE

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