Algae Is Already Big Business
The drive for cheap biofuel will make algae the food of the future.
To become the “food of the future”, and compete with conventional human foods and animal feeds, algae production costs must be ten times lower.
Lower costs will deliver healthy algae omega 3 oils and protein food and feed products, rebalancing our diets. We’ll see algae based resins, biopolymers, bioplastics and a range of specialty chemicals replacing today’s fossil fuel chemical products.
The big algae energy investment underway may take a decade to reach commercial biofuels. Algae food and bio-plastic products are likely to arrive earlier, since fuel is one of the least valuable end products. To deliver competitive algae biofuel, companies will need to crush costs to $1/kg or less!
How will algae production costs come down? Biomimicry.
Numerous ventures have now successfully raised a combined billion dollars for algae biofuel R&D and production. Innovations and technological breakthroughs will dramatically change the way algae has been produced over the past 30 years. How?
Discover better performing algae cultures. Thirty years ago, scientists used available natural strains such as spirulina and chlorella. Today, backed by R&D budgets, scientists screen, identify and engineer strains of algae with superior and enhanced properties, faster growth rates, and abilities to grow in conditions such as low light and temperature and high saline, brackish or ocean water.
Develop simpler, less costly design and technology. Rethink, redesign and reengineer the entire growing system, harvesting, processing and drying sequence to reduce capital costs for equipment, operating costs and power consumption.
Use marginal land and water just like nature. To grow algae on the large scale needed to produce biofuels, growers should not use valuable fertile agricultural land and scarce fresh water. Rather, find remnant flat land and ocean, saline, brackish or waste water located near nutrient resources.
Use waste nutrients just like nature. To lower costs, future algae growing systems will have to follow principals of biomimicry. Recycle waste CO2 effluent, animal and plant wastes, which are costly problems today. Ferment agricultural, animal, industrial and waste streams into carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace nutrients to feed the algae. Or grow algae by cleaning up municipal waste.
Use all the algae biomass just like nature. Sell ALL of the algae. Start with the end product and work backwards. What are the products that can be sold, and for how much, and how will markets be developed for those products?
Create multiple revenue streams to offset costs. Environmental services may include CO2 and pollution mitigation, wastewater treatment, biomass and waste heat for generating electricity and even carbon offsets.
Non-fuel algae products may represent the 70% of the algae biomass. Potential revenue streams include algae oil and lipid supplementation in animal and human feed, like healthy omega 3 oils, animal feedstocks and supplements, biofertilizers, fine chemicals and bio-plastics, extracts for pigments nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and medicinals. Get big. Scale up to thousands of hectares. Large algae farms will allow economies of scale. Along the way, demonstration farms to prove out technologies _PDF Productsfrom Algae PDF
Co-Products of Algae
Both micro-algae and macro-algae can be made much less expensive. As the price curve of production drops, it will meet the price curve of market demand -- for one new algal product after another. Plastics, high value chemicals, animal feeds, biomass for various uses, etc. Until eventually, algae production becomes efficient enough for algal fuels and alga-based human food to compete with petro-fuels and regular human food crops.
The trend has been in play for decades now. But as more resources are devoted toward the goal, the tipping point will arrive sooner.
Al Fin continues to predict 2020 as the approximate date for price parity for algal/microbial and petro fuels. From that point it will require another 10 years for appreciable scaling of production -- and ultimately significant displacement of petrofuels by microbial fuels.