Dispatch from the Algae Biomass Summit
The 2015 Algae Biomass Summit opened yesterday in front of a packed audience at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC. The first keynote and plenary speakers of the largest algae conference in the world were all in agreement that the industry advancements over the past year were proof that algae’s greatest potential was their ability to impact dozens of markets. The focus of nearly every speaker was how algae has become a technology platform with multiple applications.
“There’s Algae Inside.”
In his opening remarks, ABO executive director Matt Carr listed the benefits of using algae in the production of fuels, foods, medicine and other products, saying that in the future they might all carry the tag line: “there’s algae inside.”
Algae Impacts the Industry, Thanks to ABO and Member Companies
ABO board chair and CEO of Cellana, Martin Sabarsky, echoed Matt’s words, and noted that algae are already impacting several industries. He noted that an impressive set of policy wins accomplished by the Algae Biomass Organization shows how ABO is punching above its weight class. This is largely due to the great potential of the organization’s members, which they’ve demonstrated in their commercial and pre-commerical operations.
A Vision of Innovation
Dr. Peter Licari of Solazyme addressed a packed room of hundreds of attendees as the Summit’s first keynote. He noted that algae, a 1.5 billion year old organism, can help solve many of the challenges in the world today. Because they are among the first organisms to evolve they can produce any type of oil.
The algae fermentation technology used by Solazyme can produce algae independent of the season, or geographic location. This advantage means they can produce a variety oils not available by traditional methods, such as tropical oils in the dead of winter in Iowa.
Industry Advancements Towards Commercialization
At the opening plenary session, moderator Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest pointed out the incredible progress toward commercialization so many companies were making, with many of them producing fuels and other products.
Algae’s potential to consume carbon dioxide was discussed by CEO’s of some of the leading companies in the industry. CEO of Algenol Paul Woods noted that their process can use $2 of CO2 from the flue gas of a power plant to produce up to 7 barrels of fuel. His carbon reduction potential is also impressive; a 2,000-acre Algenol facility is the equivalent of planting 40 million trees.
Executives from Joule Unlimited, LanzaTech, T2Energy, and Global Algae Innovations all agreed that carbon utilization was now a real business opportunity, and costly carbon sequestration options would not be competitive as the algae technology platform goes to commercial scale.
DOE In Support of Algae Technology
The importance of progress in the industry was not lost on Franklin (Lynn) Orr, U.S. Under Secretary for Science and Energy. In his keynote, Secretary Orr noted that the first steam mechanical engines were extremely inefficient, but over decades and centuries the technology has evolved to impact every corner of our lives. Algae can follow a similar path, he noted, and the Department of Energy has been committed to supporting R&D in the industry, and will continue to do so.
Algae Making the World Healthier
In the plenary session on innovations in health and nutrition moderated by Dr. Stephen Mayfield of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology, UC San Diego, a number of leading firms described how their technologies could upend markets for Omega-3 supplements, food pigments, pharmaceutical, nutritional supplements, animal feeds and more. The business and research challenges with any new technology are real, but market drivers as well as the need for a more sustainable way to provide food and medicine to the world mean that the future for algae is bright indeed.
Announcement from XPRIZE
Just before breaking out for the opening evening reception, Summit attendees were treated to a surprise announcement from the XPRIZE Foundation. They’ve launched the $20 Million Carbon XPRIZE, a competition that will incentivize breakthroughs to convert our current liability of CO2 emissions into useful products.
The competition will be structured as a two-track prize, with one track focused on testing technologies at a coal power plant, and the other focused on testing technologies at a natural gas power plant. The winning teams will convert the most CO2 into products with the highest net value and the smallest environmental impact. To learn more about this amazing opportunity, visit the prize website at http://carbon.xprize.org.
If the enthusiasm at the Summit is any indication, algae technologies will be stiff competition to beat for the latest XPRIZE.
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