The virtual Algae Biomass Summit concluded last week, and the most significant takeaway was that the new online format provided a more dynamic collaboration than ever before, and with larger group of participants spread across the globe. Speakers, poster presenters, exhibitors, sponsors, and hundreds of attendees gathered continue the momentum to make algae a new source of sustainable products and services all made the first virtual Summit a great success.
Despite ongoing global economic and health disruptions, attendance at the virtual Summit was even larger than last year. Elected officials, sustainability advocates, CEOs, business development executives, scientific leaders, students and government agency staff from more than 30 countries all gathered over the course of several weeks to share the latest developments and plan for the future.
As the COVID-19 crisis was prompting ABO to shift this event to an entirely online format many participants wondered if the networking possibilities during a virtual event could match those of an in-person meeting. To maximize the potential, ABO adopted a set of new online event tools, and spread the Summit program over several weeks to allow attendees a chance to engage as much as possible. The online Summit gave attendees the ability to reach out and schedule meetings with any other attendee, view recorded content, and use a number of collaboration tools. Taken together, these adjustments made the virtual Summit into an unmatched networking opportunity for the hundreds in attendance.
My online experience with the Algae Biomass Summit this year has probably resulted in more networking than I would have in person! Take advantage of every opportunity and attend more conferences/meetings (many are cheaper now) if you can! #algae2020 https://t.co/8xsEXNagH3
— Samantha Cheung (@Sam_Cheung_) September 18, 2020
Big Ideas and Market Momentum
The virtual Summit’s program opened with a series of Industry Spotlight webinars that offered deep dives into particular segments of the algae industry that have demonstrated significant momentum over the past year. These sessions covered topics such as:
- Algae Based Polymers
- Managing Carbon Dioxide Utilization for Algae R&D
- Algae in Animal Feeds
- Algae Crop Insurance
Those webinars were followed by a series of keynote and plenary discussions by some of the most innovative leaders in the sustainability and commercial sectors that are being impacted this industry. The first keynote session was kicked off by Alexandra Cousteau, a well-known advocate for ocean health. She detailed how algae farming can be a boon to the productivity of the ocean, and help feed billions around the world.
Other notable keynotes and remarks came from Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Congressmen Scott Peters (D-CA) and Darin LaHood (R-IL), EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, as well as leaders at the USDA and Department of Energy. These officials detailed the ongoing importance of federal support for algae technologies, as well as their excitement for algae to become a source of fuel, feed, food and advanced materials. Much of the support for advancing algae R&D has resulted in technological advances as well as new products, and the economic growth that comes with the growth of a new industry.
At the conclusion of a week of keynotes and high-level plenary discussions, ABO’s incoming Executive Director Rebecca White presented the 2020 Algae Industry Awards to a number of leaders that have pushed this industry forward at every level. The awards went to companies developing new products and revolutionizing existing industries, and to projects that demonstrate the remarkable potential of algae to become a solution to environmental and economic challenges. Senator Tom Udall, for his exceptional contributions to the industry over a decade or more, was awarded the Champion of Algae award. See the full list of winners here.
From the keynotes and plenaries, the Summit turned to several weeks of almost daily technical breakout sessions that revealed some of the newest advances, research findings and commercial demonstrations. Virtual tours of Gross-Wen Technologies and Synthetic Genomics gave an inside look at how algae companies are operating, and the virtual poster sessions gave many a chance to share research findings with the global community. In the closing days of the Summit, ABO’s Poster Committee awarded six student scientists with the 2020 Young Algae Researcher Awards.
Next Year at the Summit
The success of the virtual Summit left attendees asking about the 2021 event. The online tools used this year will certainly be leveraged in future years, but we also hope to combine them with live events as the world gets control of the COVID-19 crisis.
Currently, planning is underway to have the 2021 Summit hosted by the University of California, San Diego. Before the 2020 Summit was moved to the virtual format, UCSD had been planning to host the Summit, and we are looking forward to continuing our partnership with them bring this community together next year, online and in person.
See you at #algae2021!