During Wednesday’s breakout session, World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology attendees had the opportunity to learn about “Successful strategies for commercial algae production”.
The session was designed for those attending to hear from both industry and the federal government. Alice Chen, Keller and Heckman, moderated the discussion with Valerie Harmon, Cellana, and Valerie Reed, Department of Energy, Energy Efficient and Renewable Energy (EERE), Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO).
Alice Chen provided an introduction to the discussion by providing insight into the technical hurdles that algae faces.
One of the main hurdles algae producers must overcome is the need for a reliable source of carbon. Additionally there needs to be a focus on how to recycle and produce phosphorus efficiently as it is a finite nutrient. Nitrogen on the other hand does not present an issue of quantity, but rather it is an energy and water consumptive nutrient. Chen also highlighted that the need for a positive net energy balance is critical. Lastly, in addition to focusing on land use and citing, the algae industry must be strategic as it is a business that must also be profitable and viable.
Valerie Harmon, Senior Director of R&D of Cellana discussed progressing biofuel production for commercial success.
Cellana’s mission is to develop and operate highly profitable commercial scale algae biorefineries and to establish Cellana as a leading source of algae-based products serving the Omega-3, animal nutrition, and biofuel markets. Cellana understands that there is an increasing population which will result in a growing demand for both food and fuel. As a result, there is a need for the development of sustainable food and fuels. Cellana’s answer is their microalgae which is an untapped resource as it harvests the suns energy.
Cellana’s demonstration facility in Kona, HI is home to a private culture collection of over 100 high performing strains of microalgae. The demonstration facility houses a patented algae production technology system, ALDUO™, which represents the optimal balance between higher-cost photobioreactors and lower-cost open ponds for consistent production without interruption by contamination providing for a diverse strains of microalgae.
Cellana’s Kona demonstration facility also is the home to flue gas utilization where they are feeding algae from the carbon produced on site from the diesel generators used for electricity production. Cellana has found that by producing algae with flue gas as the carbon source they are still able to meet the guidelines set for heavy metals and have not experienced any significant difference in proximate composition.
Cellana has found that algae commercialization is possible as they continue operating with a low carbon footprint, low freshwater footprint, a low/no arable land footprint, and non GMO algae.
Valerie Reed, DOE, discussed the objective of BETO which is targeted research and development, while moving technologies to demonstration and deployment and increasing scale.
Reed acknowledged that innovation invites risk. However, DOE works to reduce risk by improving integration of technologies and increasing scale of operations. BETO focuses on advancing technologies for production of renewable gasoline, diesel, and fuels.
Reed also provided an insightful overview of how DOE manages integrated biorefinery projects. BETO projects range from pilot to demonstration to pioneer. This scale is now based on objective versus outcomes which captures differences of how algae is measured compared to other terrestrial feedstocks.
Reed also provided some examples of industry successes using the BETO program including Algenol, Solazyme, BioProcess Algae – all of which are pilot projects. Additionally, Sapphire Energy is at the demonstration project stage. These projects and others were able to be funded more rapidly as a result of the Recovery Act.
Concluding the session, Reed announced that the Sustained Strategy Algae Program is implementing a 10 year strategy to investigate opportunities to accelerate algal biofuel commercial readiness through an integrated science based approach.