Beyond Biofuels: Integrating Algae in the Built Environment
Integrating Algae in the Built Environment
Posted at greentechmedia
Could “urban algae” offer a promising new direction for some algae producers?
After Exxon pulled the plug on algae biofuels development last month in an attempt to refocus on the "basic science" of algae growth, CEO Rex Tillerson explained that the company's $100 million investment might not pay off for 25 years.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the near-term potential of algae-based biofuels.
The lack of any significant commercial scale for algae biofuels points to the difficulties in scaling up production: factors such as problems engineering algae strains, failure to get dense algae yields, high water and energy input costs, and soaring capital costs for commercial plants are all dogging producers. But there are still a handful of companies chipping away at those problems, even if biofuels at scale are still a decade or more away.
In order to stay afloat, algae companies have relied on markets other than biofuels. Pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fish feed and biochemicals are some of the products that offer near-term revenue potential. But there are some interesting applications emerging that are creating new opportunities for algae producers.
OriginOil is one of those companies that has moved into new markets. Since its inception in 2007, OriginOil has shifted its focus away from biofuels production and toward licensing its technology -- a two-step process that separates organic matter from water -- for wastewater cleanup in the fracking industry. The move is an example of what some are calling "next-wave investing" among cleantech companies looking for a unique path to market that doesn't involve building an entirely new infrastructure.
"It's all about figuring out a way to monetize the core technology," said OriginOil CEO Riggs Eckelberry in an interview about the company's changing business model.