Monthly Archives: January 2013

Which Country Is Leading The Way in Algae Biofuels?

Which Country Is Leading The Way in Algae Biofuels? Dr. José Olivares is an analytical chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) in New Mexico. Biofuels Digest sat down with him recently to pick his brain about where various countries were in the race to produce algae biofuels. What follows is some of his thoughts on the subject.


India boasts a lengthy reputation for utilizing algae, but largely as a nutritional resource or for wastewater treatment. They’re attempting to build up those aspects into a biofuels market to a degree. Actually, India and the United States have cooperated in the creation of a financing venture for the advancement of biofuels generally, be it algae or cellulosic or another energy plant which has not yet been decided. That financing venture is in formation process and plans to put almost a million and a half to two million dollars per year for study and continuing development of biofuels in each country.

I believe India is a power to cope with due to their lengthy track record with algae, but at this time they’re wanting to figure out out the best way to enter the biofuels industry. We’re extremely privileged, from a NAABB point of view, to be working with Reliance Industries Limited, which is one of the biggest petrochemical businesses on earth and is located in India.


Japan has experienced an even longer background than nearly all nations in producing algae for business applications, largely macroalgae, for dietary sources and food options. They also have had a top phycological community and therefore are extremely proactive in prospecting for new species of algae.  The Japanese possibly possess a number of the best scientists on earth examining species such as Botryococcus braunii.

A lot of this research is focused at the University of Tsukuba. There, they’ve in fact determined a brand-new type of algae that grows very, quickly and possesses relatively good oil productivity. It’s extremely regular and very fast growing in signifigant amounts, so its overall efficiency appears encouraging for the biofuels industry.


Inside China, I went to check out the Qingdao Institute for Bioenergy and Biotechnology. The institute was launched to assist the area around Qingdao produce a bioenergy infrastructure and they’re effectively enroute to doing that. During the last 36 months, they’ve assembled an institution with approximately 200 experts. It’s kind of remarkable to view the research power that they’ve managed to collect in that very limited time.

The Chinese possess a couple of projects in algae and we are, once more, extremely blessed within the NAABB to be partners. We’re collaborating with Dr. Jian Xu in the sequencing and the annotation and analysis of Nannochloropsis salina  strain 1776 which we’re likewise sequencing here at Los Alamos. This cooperation also involves NMSU and Solix Biosystems which performed an important part in creating our collaboration.


Taiwan is quite comparable to China. There exists a huge steel plant in southern Taiwan, the Chinese Steel Corporation in Tungkang. Among the biggest steel plants on earth with considerable CO2 emissions. This factory is participating with the National Cheng Kung University to create a photobioreactor sequestration system for CO2.

Overall, this is a considerable undertaking for a very small country.


Australia has been in the news for quite a while and has recently been creating quite a commercial concern in algae. Muradel, small businesses forming in Adelaide and in Karratha (from a joint venture between Murdoch U., Adelaide Research and Innovation Pty Ltd and SQC Pty Ltd) is building a small 10 acre facility and presently possesses about two acres under production. In addition, Aurora Algae has begun building a few facilities in Karratha, and MBD Energy is active in Queensland.

The University of Sydney is creating a variety of systems for the conversion of biomass into oils, in particular their hydrothermal liquefaction abilities seem extremely encouraging for algae.

Of course, we have all seen the interest from airlines such as Qantas and Virgin Air, and airplane manufacturer Boeing, in the Australian bioenergy initiatives. All of this is a very, very nice level of development from Australia.


There are four new algae projects being funded by the European Union. Three of them are located in Spain.

Specifically, I visited the Repsol Innovation Center in Madrid and University of Alicante. Repsol is a large Spanish petrochemical interested in the development of biofuels. Repsol has a number of algae projects developing around Spain, including at the Univeristy of Alicante. Their research is looking at plastics for photobioreactors, greenhouse containment systems, strain selection, photobioreactor design, and fuel conversion. At the U. of Alicante I was particularly interested in their work with hydrothermal liquefaction technologies.

Of course, there has also been great work by Rene Wijffels at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, in understanding different types of photobiorector systems and cultivation systems for the European-type environment. There are also some efforts in other countries like Greece and Italy, but overall, Spain seems to be the one leading the development of the algae industry in Europe.

A nice, new technology just emerged out of a company called Evodos looking at a new centrifugal technology that is very low energy and fairly well developed. They are already being looked at very heavily by a lot of commercial entities and some research institutions. They have three different sized systems, from a research and development system to systems that can be taken out into the field for harvesting algae very, very quickly up to twenty thousand liters per hour flow rates for their largest systems.

Israel and Korea

We’ve heard quite a bit from Israel who has had a long history in developing nutraceuticals and now are using their photobioreactor systems mostly for biofuels. This development has come primarily out of Ben-Gurion University. In fact, Ami Ben-Amotz and his company Seambiotic are just starting to develop a new facility in China for algal biofuels, from technology they developed in Israel.


So when I look at all of the research and development that is taking place worldwide, I think the algae biofuels industry is starting to take off. In it, I also see that the U.S. continues to be a major force in helping drive that development. In many cases, the U.S. is involved in major collaborations in some way or U.S. industries are going into these countries because of their favorable environmental conditions for algae production (e.g., Australia).

We can see that the U.S is a major, major driver in those efforts. And since about two years ago with the stimulus funds coming into algal biofuels from a research and development aspect and biorefinery development, the U.S. is probably still the largest funding source for algal development from a public standpoint. Even from a private standpoint there are many more industrial and commercial efforts developing in the U.S. as compared to the rest of the world.

That’s not to say that the rest of the world is not catching up, and it’s great to see that all of these efforts are going on both in the U.S. and across the globe. As you well know, biofuels development is probably going to be very specific to regional conditions. Therefore, regional solutions are going to need to be developed in order to have economically and environmentally feasible biofuels efforts in each country.

Even within each country, I think we are going to see differences in the way we cultivate. For example, the way we cultivate in the southwest of the United States is going to be very different from Hawaii and from Florida, and much different than in the northern parts of the United States.

2013: The “Hold em or Fold em” Year For Algae Biofuels?

I’ve talked a lot about Solazyme in recent weeks. This is because there just seems to be no stopping this company recently. They are making news and rocking the algae biofuels boat in a big way. Take for example, this news story.

The elegance of utilizing algae to power the world’s motor vehicles continues to be in the center of countless investment proposals over the years-some which have hit a brick wall spectacularly, plus some that happen to be still inching along along the prolonged route to commercialization. But 2013 could possibly present a critical 12 months for a lot of of the algae fuel market leaders who have invested many years raising capital, constructing pilot projects, and promoting their algae within specialized niche market segments such as in compounds for expensive skin ointments.

Among the businesses that’s the furthest along is Solazyme (SZYM), a South San Francisco-based business which went public early in the year of 2011. Solazyme was among the initial companies to target the various chemical compounds as well as personal care market segments, creating a modest but constant income stream as it prepared itself for the issues of producing its algae oil at a level and price that could remain competitive with oil for transportation.

But Solazyme is currently on the edge of ramping up its algae oil for petrol, as well. Recently the business asserted that its Brazilian partnership with food processing giant Bunge (BG)-called Solazyme Bunge Produtos Renováveis-has obtained authorization for a $120 million bank loan from the Brazilian Development Bank to construct its initial commercial-scale algae fuel manufacturing plant in Brazil. The plant is currently being built (it started in the summer of 2012) alongside Bunge’s sugarcane mill in São Paulo (it employs sugar for a feedstock). Solazyme anticipates it’ll be prepared to go operational by the fourth quarter of 2013. In the beginning it’s going to generate 100,000 metric tons annually, but by 2016 it’s designed to produce 300,000 metric tons per year.

Solazyme in addition intends to achieve commercial scale of its algae fuel in the U.S. shortly, utilizing a plant in Clinton, Iowa, belonging to agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). That factory should create 20,000 metric tons of algae oil annually in early 2014, and ultimately 100,000 metric tons per year. Additionally, it possesses its own smaller-scale design plant in Peoria, Ill.

Sapphire Energy is yet another business that’s trying to get across  the so-called Valley of Death from low-volume output to industrial scale that will eventually be competitive with oil. The business includes a 2,200-acre algae farm in Columbus, N.M., which includes 70 ponds, each the dimensions of a football field, in addition to a refinery on site. The New Mexico refinery evidently began generating oil in reduced quantities last summer and by 2014 should be capable of making 1.5 million gallons of algae crude per year, and 10,000 barrels a day by 2018.

Sapphire and Solazyme are targeting the algae oil market with different strategies. Solazyme grows its algae in sealed fermentation tanks, while Sapphire is cultivating it in the open air on huge plots of acreage. Outdoor ponds might in theory be less expensive, nonetheless they have to deal with the issue of making certain that they don’t get infected and disrupted by exterior factors.

Still another organization perfecting algae fuel is Synthetic Genomics, which is the creation of genomics master Craig Venter. Venter defeated the U.S. government to become the very first to sequence the human genome, as well as directed his team recently to be the first one to create the world’s first artificial microbial cell, referred to as first artificial life form by many people. The scientists constructed an artificial chromosome and introduced it into a living bacterial cell, where by it took over the cell and grew to become a completely new life form.

Synthetic Genomics managed to score a huge, likely $600 million development package with Exxon. Last spring, Synthetic Genomics purchased an 81-acre location in California’s Imperial Valley, close to the Salton Sea, and it intends to scale up and test its algae strains there with 42 open ponds.

Scaling up these unique production facilities and farms requires a huge amount of cash. But they’re necessary as the algae oil must be created at a massive scale to get it inexpensive enough to play competitively with oil.

The expenses without a doubt take a toll on these innovators. Solazyme’s net deficits are increasing, and the business lost $58.52 million for the 9 months ended September 2012, up from a $38.32 million net loss for the very same time period a year earlier. The organization will probably not be profitable for years, and it’s helping fund its manufacturing agreement with ADM with equity. This week Solazyme reported that it plans to sell off $100 million worth of notes to assist it construct its plans.

Here’s my question: Since only small scale algae production is currently viable and realistic, why isn’t research money flowing to this already proven area? Instead of concentrating on what works and bettering that, why are these companies spending 100’s of millions of dollars to create something which hasn’t been proven to work?

Couldn’t 1000 people, with small scale ponds create just as much algae as one company with 1000 ponds?

Either sharing the wealth isn’t in their corporate plans, or small scale algae production just isn’t sexy enough.

California Approves Fuel Made From Algae

California has taken a giant leap forward in mainstreaming algae biofuels by offering it’s approval of a new 20% blend. Last month we saw a successful trial of algae biofuels being sold to consumers at gas stations. This month we see California moving forward and paving the way for successful, wide-spread, distribution.

In Sacramento, California, The Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Measurement Standards (DMS) has tested samples of a new 20 percent biodiesel blend fuel made from algae and is happy to report that the fuel is compliant with California’s quality specification for biodiesel blends. The new fuel became available November 13, 2012 at four gas stations in Berkeley, Oakland, Redwood City and San Jose as part of a pilot program.

The algae is not typical pond algae – it is produced specifically to consume sugar and convert it to stored oils that supply energy. The algae is grown in special reaction vessels under very sterile conditions to encourage maximum oil production.

The fuel is 20 percent algae biodiesel blended with low sulfur diesel fuel. Samples were tested to ensure overall high-quality engine performance and to ascertain that exhaust emissions will remain low. The tests were also good indicators that engine deposits and engine wear will be minimal, and that corrosion and filter plugging are reduced – very important factors for fuel used in diesel engines.

When evaluating biodiesel and other fuels, California adheres to standards set by ASTM International and SAE International, which meet the requirements of engine manufacturers worldwide. DMS has a rigorous program of sampling and testing for fuels sold at retail. A 2012 marketplace survey showed 99 percent quality compliance rate in gasoline and 98 percent compliance for diesel.

Persons experiencing problems with quality, quantity or product labeling of fuels or automotive products can contact their local county department of weights and measures or the DMS at 916-229-3000. The DMS website has additional information about petroleum products as well as an online complaint form and links to county weights and measures offices.

What this means to the rest of us.

Basically, California is stealing the show in terms of setting the stage that the rest of the country will follow. They were the first to establish city zoning areas for algae biofuels, the first to establish guidelines, the first to sell algae biofuels publicly, now the first to grant governmental approval. I would also expect some of the first commercialized algae biofuel production centers to start moving to California as well.

This is both good and bad. It’s no secret that while California is no doubt a leader, it also has its own particular way of doing things. Which sometimes fit, and sometimes doesn’t, with the rest of the country. The various law makers being what they are, tend to look at what one state is doing and if seeing no glaring mistakes, adopt the same rules and regulations without much introspection.

On the other hand, implementation has to start somewhere. California is as good a place as any, and better than most. The legal groundwork has to begin. Beginning sooner is better than beginning later. It doesn’t hurt that California has many natural attributes, both in climate and in infrastructure, which make it an ideal place for algae biofuel start ups.

Everyone knows they can certainly use the tax dollars.

(France) Successfully Runs Vehicle on Algae Biodiesel

Libourne—Fermentalg, a commercial biotechnology organization that are experts producing chemical products from microalgae, is going to be introducing a manufacturing design automobile devoid of unique modifications that will works off algae biodiesel on Friday 7 December.

The demonstration to the media is going to be performed at the launching of Fermentalg’s brand-new factories in Libourne attended by President of the Aquitaine Regional Council and Deputy for Gironde to the French National Assembly, Alain Rousset.

Fermentalg has recently profitably made its initial liters of biodiesel.

The 3rd generation biofuel is in accordance with European Standard EN 142141 allowing its retailing in France, along with French federal government standard B72 meaning it is suitable for various other vehicles presently in supply and isn’t controlled by any kind of prohibitions.

Conformity with such specifications was confirmed by a Cofrac3-accredited petrol examination research laboratory.

The initial testing on Fermentalg’s biodiesel have been performed after November utilizing a French manufacture utility vehicle in the presence of a bailiff.

Microalgae-based biofuels may be an exceptionally encouraging 3rd generation answer that provide extremely high yields of lipids, have minimal implications for the natural environment and put virtually no burden on the food market.

In reality, microalgae selectively bred utilizing Fermentalg engineering feed off by-products from the food or chemical industrial sectors.

Generating these types of biofuels does not only lower the petrol expenses, but additionally decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

As stated by Pierre Calleja, founder and Chairman and CEO of Fermentalg: “Fermentalg has once again earned its place as a leader in the production of chemical compounds from microalgae and as a pioneer in Europe in the production of algae biofuels.

“The resounding success of our first steps in biodiesel confirms the enormous potential of microalgae in the production of 3rd generation biofuels.”