What’s It All About, Algae?

by Richard T. Stuebi

One of the hottest areas of cleantech investor activity in the past year has been algae. Yes, algae. More specifically, technologies that enable the production of fuels from algae.

The concept is premised on the fact that algae is a rapidly-growing organism that converts sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce lipids, which in turn can be refined into various hydrocarbons. In other words, a carbon-neutral fuel cycle. Pretty cool.

A number of start-up companies — such as Solazyme, Live Fuels, Solix Biofuels and GreenFuel Technologies — have emerged in recent years to pursue this possibility, some fetching sizable quantities of capital from blue-chip investors.

I frequently receive emails with links to videos promising interesting energy/environmental technologies, and most strike me as quackery of some degree or another. However, I recently was pointed to a video produced by a company named Valcent Products (OTCBB: VCTPF) that appears particularly compelling. To be clear, I am not recommending this company or its stock, but I do like the tack that Valcent seems to be taking.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

8 replies
  1. Brooks Lindsay
    Brooks Lindsay says:

    The problems I see with algae is that it is an inefficient use of the sun's energy. Grow a plant from the sun's energy so that you can burnt it to obtain the sun's energy. Why not just use photovoltaics to obtain the sun's energy directly? This is the general problem I have with biofuels, not to mention the emissions and air-quality issues, as well as the heavy requirements of water and nutrients to grow algae. You may want to check out Debatepedia's pro/con break down of the topic :http://wiki.idebate.org/index.php/Special:Search?search=Algae+biofuel&go=Go

  2. gerald
    gerald says:

    It sounds good…but as far as actual yields, all they talk about is a hypothetical yield. The narrator in the video on their web page does not give any indication of what actual yields they are getting. Until they start talking about actual yields, I will remain to be sceptical.Gerald

  3. Paul O' Callagh
    Paul O' Callagh says:

    Hi Richard, Good idea to highlight fuels from algae, very interesting! Yes, they have been RAKING in the investment in the past year or so. The Cleantech group produces a very good webinar on 'Fuels from Algae'. You can access it from their website, cleantech.com, or I have put in a link to download it directly at http://www.o2env.com. They indicated there are a number of 'chancers' out there with dubious technologies. The technology is at such an early stage really that it can be difficult for people looking in, to guage how viable a given process will be. So I think 'Caveat Emptor' was their message.

  4. Paul O' Callagh
    Paul O' Callagh says:

    Hi Richard, Good idea to highlight fuels from algae, very interesting! Yes, they have been RAKING in the investment in the past year or so. The Cleantech group produces a very good webinar on 'Fuels from Algae'. You can access it from their website, cleantech.com, or I have put in a link to download it directly at http://www.o2env.com. They indicated there are a number of 'chancers' out there with dubious technologies. The technology is at such an early stage really that it can be difficult for people looking in, to guage how viable a given process will be. So I think 'Caveat Emptor' was their message.

  5. Paul O' Callagh
    Paul O' Callagh says:

    Hi Richard, Good idea to highlight fuels from algae, very interesting! Yes, they have been RAKING in the investment in the past year or so. The Cleantech group produces a very good webinar on 'Fuels from Algae'. You can access it from their website, cleantech.com, or I have put in a link to download it directly at http://www.o2env.com. They indicated there are a number of 'chancers' out there with dubious technologies. The technology is at such an early stage really that it can be difficult for people looking in, to guage how viable a given process will be. So I think 'Caveat Emptor' was their message.

  6. Haldane Dodd
    Haldane Dodd says:

    The aviation industry is undertaking a great deal of work on algae as a potential biofuel replacement for Jet-A1 fuel. In fact, Boeing has so much confidence in research, supply and certification issues being overcome that it predicts it will be in active flight line service 3 – 5 years from now. This is optimistic, but indicative of the speed with which our industry has embraced sustainable biofuel research.See my blog post at http://www.enviro.aero for more about this topic.Haldane DoddAir Transport Action Group, Geneva

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