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Posts Tagged ‘ Sapphire Energy ’

San Diego nominees for Biofuels Digest’s Transformative Technologies 2014

Today Biofuels Digest “announced nominations for Transformative Technologies 2014, in which organizations are recognized for their impact in transforming a feedstock, a process step, a processing technology, a molecule — and in which plants, towns or industrial complexes, and states and countries are recognized for transforming their economies through the use of new technology.”

The San Diego biorenewables cluster is well represented.

Transformation of an oilseed or tree

SGB JMax jatropha

Transformation of a microbe or algae

Sapphire Energy algae

Transformative Harvest, extraction or dewatering system

Sapphire Energy DAF dewatering

Molecule – biobased chemical

Genomatica BDO

Plant or integrated biorefinery

BP Biofuels – Tropical Bioenergia, Brazil

Town or industrial symbiosis

San Diego, California

Click for Biofuels Digest’s Transformative Technologies 2014 nominees announced


Algae Fuel Leaders Meet at Summit: San Diego Selected for 2014 Algae Biomass Summit

ABO Logo1The 2013 Algae Biomass Summit, the world’s largest event focused on algae technology, ended Oct. 3 in Orlando, Fla. Hosted by the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO), industry leaders revealed new production capabilities and forecasts for commercial quantities of biofuels, feeds, Omega-3 oils, plastics and other products derived from large-scale, industrial algae agriculture operations.

Speaking to a packed conference hall on Oct. 2, executives from Algenol, Sapphire Energy, Cellana, BioProcess Algae, Heliae, Algix and Aurora Algae all emphasized scaling up production as the industry’s next major priority as it begins to provide algae-derived fuels and a wide range of other products to worldwide markets. Matt Horton, CEO of alternative fuel retailer Propel Fuels, showcased research results demonstrating consumer preference for algae-based fuels.

Paul Woods, CEO of Florida-based Algenol Biofuels, unveiled a new vertical bioreactor design that has allowed the company to achieve algae-to-ethanol production capacities in excess of 10,000 gallons per acre at competitive prices. Algenol also uses its algae to produce renewable jet fuel, diesel and gasoline. The company expects that the new system, based on simple, easy to set up photobioreactors growing algae in seawater, will enable a rapid expansion to commercial production. 

“As fast as people can put up the bags, I can fill them with algae,” said Woods.

Algenol and Sapphire Energy both expect to meet production capacities in excess of one million gallons within the next year. That milestone was acknowledged as just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the industry’s goal of supplying markets with meaningful quantities of sustainable, renewable fuels derived from algae.

“A million barrels is a significant milestone but it’s only the beginning of what’s required,” said CJ Warner, Sapphire Energy’s CEO & chairman, who reported on Sapphire’s success in the past year in bringing its pilot-scale facility online, and announced they are selecting a site for a full production scale facility.

Beyond fuels, the ability of algae to be a source of fertilizers, feeds, plastics, and nutraceuticals was the subject of updates from executives at Cellana, BioProcess Algae, Heliae, Algix, and Aurora Algae. Algix, a Georgia-based company producing a range of algae-derived plastics, was among the companies expressing a growing interest in purchasing large quantities of algae from producers.

“We brought our checkbook and we’re taking orders,” said Michael VanDrunen, president and CEO of Algix.

The Summit came at a time when industry is increasingly looking for new sources of sustainable raw materials—feedstock—for a wide range of end-uses. Products made from algae are the natural solution to the energy, food, economic, and climate challenges facing the world today, contends ABO. Algae have the power to simultaneously put fuels in vehicles, recycle CO2, provide nutrition for animals and people and create jobs for millions of Americans without harmful impacts on freshwater supplies or valuable agricultural land, the organization further claims.  More information can be found at

The 2013 Algae Biomass Summit will be held in San Diego.  San Diego previously hosted the Summit in 2009.


CleanTECH San Diego Awarded Grant to Support Region’s Biofuels Industry

Anderson, Jason HEADSHOT 9-12-12The statement which follows was released today by Jason Anderson, Vice President of CleanTECH San Diego.

We are excited to announce that CleanTECH San Diego, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation and the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation have been awarded a Regional Industry Clusters of Opportunity II (RICO II) grant from the California Workforce Investment Board.  This $250,000 grant is funded by Assembly Bill 118, Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, through the California Energy Commission and will help facilitate the continued development of our region’s biofuels industry.

As you know, the San Diego and Imperial Valley regions continue to be leaders in the advanced research and development of biofuels.  With the successful conclusion of the EDGE initiative, a state funded, industry-led program to train and educate workers in the biofuels industry, San Diego and Imperial Valley face additional obstacles in developing our biofuels industry.  As companies like Cellana, Sapphire Energy and Synthetic Genomics continue to refine their products here regionally, they’re turning elsewhere to commercialize their suite of biofuels products.  Although the research and development (more…)


Algae Biomass Organization: Report from the Executive Director

By Guest Author Mary Rosenthal Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization

It’s been just two weeks since the conclusion of the 6th Annual Algae Biomass Summit. And what an event it was! More than 800 experts from around the world.  More than 200 combined poster and oral presentations.  Networking events. Pre-conference tours. It was great. 

That said, I must admit that one of my favorite parts of the event was the last day, during which we presented the first ever Young Algae Researcher Awards to six of the brightest up-and-coming minds in our industry.  Together in the same room was the present – and future – of our industry.  It couldn’t be more exciting!

This year’s summit featured (more…)


What will propel the drivers on the left coast in 2022?

My ten year vision for personal transportation in California is crystal clear.  It is definitely electricity or maybe algae biofuel or perhaps hydrogen or even natural gas or possibly what we are already doing only less so.  Recent reports confirm my long-held conviction that much of life is spent in the selective search for “facts” to support conclusions already embraced.  Here are some recently released resources you can utilize to rationalize your point of view.

Earlier this month saw the release of Electric Drive by ’25, How California Can Catalyze Mass Adoption of Electric Vehicles by 2025  The 28 page report was jointly conceived by the law schools at Berkeley and UCLA.  Greg Haddow of San Diego Gas & Electric was one of the panel members at the May 2012 Climate Change Workshop that informed this analysis.

The California Fuel Cell Partnership (CaFCP) has released a new report called, A California Road Map: The Commercialization of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles.  In San Diego, Pearson Fuels is currently developing its hydrogen business model for existing or newly-built gasoline stations in California.

The Algae Biomass Summit is underway this week in Colorado.  Adding to the fun is a turbo-charged, 800cc diesel powered track motorcycle from Holland.  UC San Diego has provided a 50/50 blend of biodiesel derived from algae and cooking oil waste.  Sapphire Energy’s contribution is a 100% algae-derived Green Crude diesel fuel.  Below the Surface’s ‘Driving Innovation’ Team established the first official algae-fueled motorcycle speed record during The Texas Mile land speed event in March reaching 94.6 mph. 

Even faster than the pond scum powered bike is the new Tesla Model S which can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under 4.4 seconds.  Yesterday Tesla Motors unveiled its highly anticipated Supercharger network. Constructed in secret, Tesla revealed the locations of the first six Supercharger stations, which will allow the Model S to travel long distances with ultra-fast charging throughout California, parts of Nevada and Arizona. The electricity used by the Supercharger comes from a solar carport system provided by SolarCityElon Musk, Tesla Motors co-founder and CEO is also the Chairman of SolarCity.  The use of the Supercharger stations will be free for Tesla Model S owners. 

UC San Diego has an established fleet of electric vehicles supported with the necessary charging infrastructure.  Yesterday they announced the installation of the first of 20 public EV charging stations on the campus in La Jolla.  Turnkey solar system provider Sullivan Solar Power is responsible for the installation.

Wildcat Discovery Technologies, a privately held San Diego company focused on battery materials development, said Wednesday it signed a multi-year joint development agreement to develop materials to improve rechargeable battery technology with Japan’s Ashai Kasei Corp., one of the world’s largest producers of advanced battery separators.  Wildcat maintains it can accelerate improvements in battery technology with its capabilities to design, develop and commercialize transformational advanced battery materials. The company claims its 32-person team of scientists and engineers uses proprietary high-throughput tools to develop and optimize materials.

The most expensive component in an electric car is the battery, so why not put it to work making EVs not just environmentally but also financially appealing? That’s the idea behind V2G (Vehicle to Grid) technology.  The EV owner makes their battery available to the utility during a given period and, depending on supply and demand in the grid, the utility uses the car as a short time energy storage solution in order to help regulate the power frequency of the grid. The value of providing these regulation services is very high.  An article in Intelligent Utility magazine drew heavily on the explorative work being done by San Diego Gas & ElectricAlex Kim, director of customer innovations at SDG&E noted that “San Diego may have one of the highest densities of EVs in its region (more than 1,600) than any region in the country.  SDG&E also may be tops in distributed solar photovoltaic panels, with more than 18,000 grid-tied systems. In combination, those two resources support a V2G business model that would focus on localized benefits in addition to ancillary services for the wholesale market that serve an ISO or RTO.”  Xconomy is also on the V2G story with their article, Detroit Leading U.S. Development of New Vehicle-to-Grid Technology.   

The mix of what will fuel the cars of the future is uncertain.  What is absolutely certain is the unsustainability of a national car/truck infrastructure funded by the current fuel tax.  Even if electric vehicles fail to gain market share, the Federal mandate to increase fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks is a road revenue killer.  An article in the Wall Street Journal last week warned, “Looking ahead, the Congressional Budget Office predicts new federal fuel-economy standards will reduce revenue by 21% in 2040 when they are fully phased in. To illustrate the effect of a 21% drop, the CBO estimates that if all cars on the road now met the stricter efficiency standards, it would mean a $57 billion cumulative reduction in revenue between now and 2022”.  This is another opportunity for Congress to act in the present rather than their usual ploy of punt and pray.


Success of local EDGE Initiative noted at Summer of Algae Tour

By Guest Author Jason Anderson, Vice President of CleanTECH San Diego

Earlier this week, I participated in the kick-off of the Algae Biomass Organization’s Summer of Algae Tour at UC San Diego. This event was co-hosted by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego and the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB).  The Summer of Algae Tour aims to educate policy makers about the algae biomass industry and its vast potential to continue creating jobs, domestic fuels, feedstock and other vital products.  The kick-off featured CleanTECH San Diego members Synthetic Genomics, General Atomics, Cellana and Sapphire Energy. Their pioneering work, along with the applied research within our local universities and institutions, serves as a stunning reminder of the global leadership provided by our region’s biofuels industry.  As Dr. Greg Mitchell of Scripps Institution of Oceanography explained to the audience, we are truly a “cluster of excellence.”  More information on ABO’s Summer of Algae Tour can be found here

My remarks at the event highlighted the EDGE Initiative and its successful conclusion.  As you know, more than two years ago CleanTECH San Diego and a number of key partner organizations, received a $4 million grant from the State of California to create curricula and workforce training programs designed to support our region’s biofuels and industrial biotech industry.  I am pleased to report that our work is complete.  Through a close collaboration, we have designed programs that not only support the biofuels and industrial biotech industry today, but will continue to evolve to meet industry needs as it matures.  To date, we have trained more than 300 workers and over one-third of those trained are now employed in the industry.  Just as the region’s research institutions and private sector companies continue to gain momentum and investment for their advances, EDGE’s cutting edge curricula and training programs are being considered for adoption by institutions all over the world.

The success of this program is due to a large number of people and organizations.  I would especially like to think Victoria Bradshaw, former Secretary, California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, for her leadership and support, Steve Mayfield and his team at SD-CAB and UC San Diego for their hard work and dedication in creating EDGE’s curricula and training programs, and Kristie Grover and the BIOCOM Institute for their work on behalf of the students.  I would also like to thank the Industry Advisory Council, made up of private sector companies (including those mentioned above), which were a critical component to this initiative, as they helped shape the final product.

The EDGE Initiative proves once again that San Diego’s spirit of collaboration is real and it works.  By forming partnerships with public and private stakeholders, we can continue to address the needs of our rapidly growing cleantech sector.  

Click EDGE Program Overview for an overview of the EDGE Initiative, and its impressive results.  I hope you take the time to read it.  Please let me know if you have any questions or need additional information.

Jason Anderson is Vice President of CleanTECH San Diego.  He can be reached at:


San Diego companies to play major role in the “Summer of Algae II”

On Monday, August 20, the first of a series of events featuring algae will kick off as part of a national campaign to raise awareness about the promise of the algae industry to create jobs, domestic fuels, and other food and feed products.  Through open-house style events, local and national officials will experience the research, products and jobs being created by some of the algae industry’s leading companies and research institutions.

The “Summer of Algae II” is sponsored by the Algae Biomass Organization, the trade association for the U.S. algae industry, and implemented by its member companies, with events primarily taking place during the next two weeks but also stretching into early Fall.  The campaign’s name is a nod to the original Summer of Algae, coined by Biofuels Digest editor Jim Lane to characterize the developments and momentum in the summer of 2009.

Companies and organizations participating in the events represent the broad geographic and technological variety of algae companies, including: Algaedyne (Minnesota); Algenol (Florida); Arizona State University (Arizona); BioProcess Algae, LLC (Iowa); Boeing Commercial Airplanes (Washington); Cellana (Hawaii); The Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels (Colorado); Duke Energy (Kentucky); FedEx (Tennessee); General Atomics (California); Matrix Genetics, LLC (Washington); Phycal (Ohio); The San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology at UC San Diego (California); Sapphire Energy (California); Solix BioSystems, Inc. (Colorado); St. Cloud State University (Minnesota); and Synthetic Genomics (California).

 “The Summer of Algae II will demonstrate the truly national promise of algae-based technologies to create jobs, develop a domestic fuel industry and manufacture a variety of other goods and products,” said Mary Rosenthal, executive director of the Algae Biomass Organization.  ”It’s important for policymakers at all levels to understand the huge potential of this industry to contribute to economic development, energy independence and national security.”

Currently, more than 200 companies across the U.S. are developing algae-based technologies to produce domestic, cost-competitive and sustainable products within multi-billion dollar industries such as fuels, animal feed, Omega-3 oils, cosmetics and other products.  Continued instability in the Middle East along with heat waves and droughts in the U.S. Midwest serve as an important reminder of the need to continually diversify sources of fuel and food.

Campaign events range from small briefings with local officials to larger tours of laboratories and commercial facilities that include panel discussions among several regional algae companies and research groups to announcements about new technologies.  Each event will focus on the unique local impact the industry is having on jobs, and how algae can be used to produce domestic fuels and products that enhance American energy security in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

A full list of events can be found on the Algae Biomass Organization’s Blog:  Interested parties can follow the campaign on twitter @algaeindustry, #summerofalgae and on the Algae Biomass Organization facebook page.

In addition to education and outreach efforts with policymakers, ABO produces and hosts the industry’s premier annual global conference, the Algae Biomass Summit, which this year will be held in Denver, CO, September 24-27 at which more than 800 algae industry leaders are expected to convene.  Earlier this year, ABO launched, the first website designed to showcase algae’s potential to audiences ranging from those just learning about algae to seasoned algae enthusiasts, media and entrepreneurs.


Future of algae as a biofuel on trial in San Diego

Algae LabYesterday was a good news day for the rapidly growing algae biofuel industry in San Diego.  Local TV station KPBS produced a comprehensive video segment, 2012 Could Determine Future Of Algae As Fuel.  Click here for the video.  

La Jolla-based Sapphire Energy announced a breakthrough via a white paper, “An exogenous chloroplast genome for complex sequence manipulation in algae.”  

“With this breakthrough, Sapphire Energy has shown that it is possible to make algae–the world’s most efficient photosynthetic organism–even more efficient,” said Jason Pyle, Sapphire Energy founder and CEO.  “This work represents the first steps toward a novel approach for creating genetic diversity in any or all regions of a chloroplast genome, and may have applications in other plants.”  

Click here for the full report.   

Grants for up to $7,000 are available for biofuels training for 55 students.  Classes will be held at UCSD Extension and Mira Costa College starting in March 2012.  Details here.


Sapphire Energy receives USDA loan guarantee for algae biofuel facility

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA has issued a loan guarantee that will allow biofuels firm Sapphire Energy to construct a facility in New Mexico to produce “green crude” oil from algae which can be refined into transportation fuel.  The project is intended to advance American efforts to provide renewable commercial-scale biofuels, increasing energy security and reducing dependence on foreign oil.  The project is expected to create 60 jobs in the community of Columbus, NM.

“The Obama Administration is committed to providing support for renewable energy production which will safeguard national security and create jobs in rural America,” said Vilsack. “This project represents another step in the effort to assist the nation’s advanced biofuel industry produce energy in commercial quantities from sustainable rural resources.”

La Jolla-based Sapphire Energy intends to design, build and operate a $135 million integrated algal biorefinery (IABR) in Columbus, N.M., for the production of advanced biofuel that is a “drop-in” replacement for petroleum derived diesel and jet fuel.  The IABR will be capable of producing 100 barrels of refined algal oil per day, equivalent to at least one million gallons per year.  The oil will be shipped to the United States Gulf Coast to be refined by Sapphire’s refinery partner, Dynamic Fuels, located in Geismar, LA.

The funding is provided through USDA’s Biorefinery Assistance Program. On December 3, 2009, USDA issued a conditional commitment for an 80 percent guarantee on a $54.5 million loan.  The loan closing and issuance of the Loan Note Guarantee for this project took place on October 21, 2011.

Today’s announcement is in concert with the objectives of the Renewable Fuel Standard, known as RFS2, which reaffirmed the goal of producing, by 2022, 36 billion gallons of biofuels to include 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels.

Producing fuel from algae is seen as one way to provide for domestically produced fuel for commercial and military use.  USDA is partnering with the Department of the Navy as it embraces a biofuel future.  USDA has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help the commercial airline utilize biofuels as jet fuel.  Under the MOU, the USDA and FAA are working together with the airline industry to develop appropriate feed stocks that can be most efficiently processed into jet fuel.  Doing so will decrease the industry’s current dependence on foreign oil and help stabilize fuel costs in the long run.

Sapphire Energy Video



Jet biofuel innovation to ignite the biofuels sector

The road to affordable alternative fuel for your car may be at 36,000 feet.  Aviation fuel from non-petroleum feed-stocks will be the first big win for alternative transportation fuel.  This success will bring a wealth of tech experience, concept proofs and scale which will jump start the introduction of new fuels for ground and water transportation.  Here are the five top reasons why jet fuel will be biofuels’ first big win.

Motivated buyers with concentrated demand

Of the more than ¾ billion vehicles on this planet the vast majority are owned by individuals or small businesses.  Most share my annoyance with the ever elevating price at the pump, but my annual expenditure for fuel is a small portion of my total budget.  In contrast, jet fuel is consumed by a limited number of commercial carriers and militaries.  Their fuel costs are a significant portion of their operating budgets. 

In the last decade over 25 airlines have ceased operation strangled by an ever tightening fuel hose.  For the survivors the risk of fuel price increase is greater than the opportunity to increase revenue.  Passenger-carrying flights with jet biofuel from a variety of non-petroleum feed-stocks have been flown by Continental, Quantas, United, Iberia, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Northwest, KLM, Japan Air Lines and a host of others.  American Airlines signed with 14 other carriers to purchase alternative fuels.  This week Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic announced the development of a world-first low carbon aviation fuel with just half the carbon footprint of the standard fossil fuel alternative.  The technology from New Zealand-based LanzaTech represents a breakthrough in aviation fuel technology that will see waste gases from industrial steel production being captured, fermented and chemically converted using Swedish Biofuels technology for use as a jet fuel. The revolutionary fuel production process recycles waste gases that would otherwise be burnt into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.  Boeing is supporting the effort.  A $3.5 million Series A funding was led by billionaire Vinod Khosla.  In June an award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was made to LanzaTech to perform research focusing on novel, low cost routes for the production of jet fuel (JP-8) from carbon monoxide (CO) rich sources.   Click here for Branson’s video presentation.  And here for the release

Concentrated distribution infrastructure 

Ground transportation is characterized by over 300,000 filing stations world-wide.  There are only 1700 airports (excluding military) of which about half are international.  Access to just 500 of the top airports represents a significant portion of jet fuel consumption. 

No competing innovations for foreseeable future

Boeing does not have an electric plane on the drawing board.  There is no Airbus Leaf or Volt.  No CNG, nuclear, solar or long-life batteries.  Biofuels are the drop-in alternatives to the dead dinosaur derivative. 

The scale is doable and significant

Boeing says the world’s airlines burn 60 billion gallons of petroleum based jet fuels each year.  If alternative fuels were to capture 15% or 20% of this market the industry would achieve a scale which would spill over onto other fuel markets. 

An effective military trumps a dysfunctional government

Twenty years ago it would have been difficult to foresee a future in which treehuggers would be obstructionists to alternative energy projects and career militarists would be the driving force for prioritizing our society’s clean energy goals.  A Congress which cannot pass a budget and an administration which cannot articulate a national energy policy are impotent to nurture innovation.  Fortunately the military is responsive and undeterred by the dearth of leadership from our elected officials.

The U.S. military consumes more energy than any other consumer in our country.  About 84% goes for aviation fuel.   Dollars wasted on rising fuel costs are at the expense of other critical needs.  The threat of supply interruptions increases with our growing dependence on oil shipped from half a world away.  The military’s response is clear and unequivocal.  Clean energy is a matter of national security.  All services branches are moving forward on plans with specific goals and time targets.  Click here to read the commitment of four retired top ranking officers to our military’s clean energy objectives. 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has directed the Navy and Marine Corps to generate half of their energy needs from renewable sources, including biofuels, by 2020.  San Diego’s rapidly growing cluster of biofuel companies and research institutions is an integral part of the response to the opportunity.  General Atomics and SAIC have been awarded contracts by DARPA to develop the technical capability and affordable production of military JP-8 surrogate fuel from algae feed-stocks.  Sapphire Energy, Synthetic Genomics, S.G. Biofuels and other San Diego-based biofuels companies are all a part of this important transformation of our energy driven economy. 

Biofuels Digest provides additional insight on the role of aviation biofuels, Quick Win: aviation biofuels offers breakout for clean energy.

To learn more about the local burgeoning biofuels cluster go to the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB).  SD-CAB along with UCSD, SDSU, CleanTECH San Diego, and BioCOM collaborated to launch Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy (EDGE) focused on educating a next-generation workforce in green technology.




Shine the spotlight on nine San Diego cleantech companies

Since 1987, the CONNECT Most Innovative New Product (MIP) Awards have been San Diego’s “Oscars” for local technology innovation.  The 2011 finalists in the Clean Technology category include Genomatica for Process for High-Volume Chemicals from Renewable Feedstocks, Noble Environmental Technologies Corporation for ECOR and Wildcat Discovery Technologies for 5V Cathode (CM1) and Electrolyte (EM1).  Winners will be announced on Friday, December 9th before an audience of more than 800 of San Diego’s top executives, entrepreneurs, VCs and academics.  Click here to register for the MIP exhibition and awards luncheon. 

San Diego’s 18th Annual TechAmerica High Tech Awards finalists in the Clean Technology category include EcoATM, Hadronex, Juice Technologies and Sapphire EnergyClick here to register for the October 28th event. 

The regional cleantech cluster in San Diego continues to receive national recognition.  On Wednesday the Global Cleantech Cluster Association announced the semifinalists for the 2011 Later Stage Award competition.  This best-of-the-best recognition includes four San Diego cleantech companies, Genomatica, PowerGenix, Achates Power and EcoATM.  In another forum Sapphire Energy was honored as a “Game Changer of the Year 2011” in Clean Technology by Grow-California for their impact on California’s green industry.


La Jolla is at the center of the global algae Petri dish

I am reading Mark Stevenson’s book, An Optimist’s Tour of the Future.  He quotes Ray Kurzweil, “Our intuition is linear and I believe it’s hardwired into our brains.”  This linear bias bangs hard against the “Law of Accelerating Returns”.  Technological innovation feeds upon itself.  Innovative growth is not 1+1+1+1, but rather 1+2+4+8.  Although the ubiquitous iPhone is a reminder of the how explosive innovation can be, we look to the future dreading that positive change will be too little, too late.  Our linear bias leads to judgments influenced by static inputs rather than future values which will be determined by innovation replicating exponentially.  The commercialization of algae biofuels is an important example.

The algae business is basically farming.  The output of the algae agricultural system will be used to produce “drop-in” biofuels as well as animal feed and a myriad of other products.  If all technological innovation were frozen at this moment, the algae biofuel business would most likely not be commercially viable.  However, just like corn and pigs, improvements are being made over time. 

In my lifetime the yield per acre of corn has tripled due to improved genetics and production technology.  What took years and decades to happen with grains and livestock is happening over weeks and months with algae.  The algae industry is not only benefiting from the explosive technological innovation of the past decade, but also from the huge universe of algae being screened to identify commercially viable strains.

There are over 800 breeds of cattle.  The gestation period for cattle is about the same as humans.  Heifers can be bred at about 12 to 14 months.  Now imagine a breeding program with cattle drawn from over 5,000,000 different species which can produce a new generation every 30 days.  With existing technology, genome engineering and capital, the accelerating refinement of super strains is rapidly advancing the algae industry.  The algae of the very near future will be as dramatically improved as the pig of 2011 compared to his scrawny ancestor of the 1950s. 

La Jolla is at the center of the global algae Petri dish.  Greg Mitchell, director of the Photobiology Group at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has a global reputation as an algae pioneer.  The San Diego Union Tribune wrote about his exciting life, “Algae visionary imagines a future that’s green — literally”.   Click here to read.

The two largest equity fundings for algae biofuel development were done in the La Jolla zip code (Synthetic Genomics and Sapphire Energy).  On Wednesday I attended a press conference for California Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher who was named chair of a new committee that will focus on creating a climate for jobs.  Sapphire Energy was selected as the site for the event to showcase the importance of innovation for job creation.  After the remarks we toured Sapphire’s labs.  Their time line is clearly stated.  “We expect to be at demonstration scale in three years and at commercial scale by 2018.”  Sapphire Energy has received $54.5 million in loan guarantees from the USDA Biorefinery Assistance Program to build a plant to turn algal oil into jet fuel.

The challenge for most disruptive technologies is finding a deep-pockets customer that is sufficiently convinced to make a meaningful buying commitment.  The algae biofuels business has that in the U.S. military.  The military’s motivation is both financial and strategic.  They know that their greatest vulnerability is dependence on imported oil.  Their bill for fuel and electricity last year was $20 billion. The prospect of growing fuel in Hawaii and Southern California versus shipping oil half way around the world has a strong appeal.  Of greatest importance to the algae biofuel industry is a military making their decisions based on future economic and strategic plans unimpeded by the wrong-headed influence of politicians. 

The military’s impact on accelerating the growth of the algae biofuels industry will be enhanced if legislation is passed allowing the Pentagon to sign long-term contracts for up to fifteen years as opposed to the current five-year limit.  A long-term commitment from a highly-rated buyer makes deal financing substantially more doable.  Members of the aviation industry testified at a Senate Aviation operations, safety and security subcommittee hearing requesting legislation enabling the Defense Department to enter into long-term contracts for fuels.

To learn more about the local burgeoning biofuels cluster go to the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB).  Greg Mitchell was one of the founders.  SD-CAB along with UCSD, SDSU, CleanTECH San Diego, and BioCOM collaborated to launch Educating and Developing Workers for the Green Economy (EDGE) focused on educating a next-generation workforce in green technology.


Three announcements highlight San Diego’s importance as algae biofuel hub

There is no place in the world where more people are working to advance the science and commercialization of algae biofuel than in San Diego.  Three announcements this week underscore the region’s standing in the quest to develop practical alternatives to fossil fuels.

On Tuesday the California Department of Labor awarded the San Diego region a $4 million grant to implement new workforce training programs for jobs in the emerging biofuels industry.  The San Diego Biofuels Initiative, a collaborative effort including CleanTECH San Diego, BIOCOM, San Diego Regional EDC, San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB) and the (more…)


Sapphire Energy presents at WEB 2.0 Summit

Web 2.0 SummitWEB 2.0 Summit, the by-invitation-only conclave of the internet intelligentsia was expanded this year to focus on “demonstrating proofs: showing how the founding principles of Web 2.0 have been put into practice to address the world’s most pressing problems”.  Cynthia Warner, president of Sapphire Energy, presented “High Order Bit: Burning Algae: The Green Crude Revolution”.  Her four bullet points for algae are: scalable, drop in fuel, low carbon and sustainable.  Click here for the 13 minute video of her presentation.


San Diego hosts Algae Biomass Summit in October

ABO LOGOFor the last few months the quest for biofuel derived from algae has been a hot headline.  San Diego’s prominence as the foremost algae R&D center will draw even more national attention when the 3rd Annual Algae Biomass Summit comes to town October 7th – 9th.  The Algal Biomass Organization is a trade organization formed to facilitate commercialization and market development of microalgae biomass specifically for biofuels production and greenhouse gas abatement.  Attendance of about 1,000 is anticipated for the three day get-together which will include local algae heavy weights Sapphire Energy, Synthetic Genomics, General Atomics, Biolight, Kent Bioenergy and the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology among others. (more…)


A cluster of algae?

Today was huge for the slimy green stuff in San Diego.  The United States’ two largest city newspapers, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, did in-depth reports about the burgeoning algae business in San Diego.  (See “Interest in algae’s oil prospects is growing” and “Algae as Fuel of the Future Faces Great Expectations — and Obstacles”).  Speculations about the commercial viability of algae as fuel, like any other scientific/business development, are purely speculative.  All the expert opinions on ESPN about the next Chargers game have no impact on the outcome of the game.  What we do know for certain about the Chargers and about algae is that the games will be played.  The question is will the championship game be played in San Diego?

Could it be that San Diego is approaching a tipping point (oozing point?) in its quest to become the world’s dominant algae biotechnology center?  At what state of maturation do we say, “now you are a cluster”?

Minds and money work best when concentrated.  Concentrated brains and bucks are common attributes of all technology clusters.  (more…)