Algae fuel and other biofuels have gained popularity in recent years to the point that even the US Military has adopted it as jet fuel. Given its recent rise to prominence, it’s not particularly surprising to learn that Arizona-based algae biofuels company Heliae has decided to harness the growth of algae on a commercial scale so that it can be used as transportation fuel.
Heliae recently opened a new plant to ‘breed’ algae, but the company is facing a number of challenges, including investment and how to create biofuel without causing large amounts of emissions. “Over the last two years, we have made significant strides in research and development to create a comprehensive algae technology solution.” stated Dan Simon, president and CEO of Heliae. “Today, we ‘walk the talk’ as we roll-out and prove the technology that will allow our partners to grow, harvest, and extract algae on a commercial scale.”
By promoting the scaled production of algae, Heliae’s technology will “allow its partners to access the billion dollar markets of functional foods, animal feeds, fuels, chemicals, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics.” However, the company’s main goal is to create a sustainable source for transportation fuels.
“We will never take our eyes off the transportation fuels,” says Simon talking to Forbes. “But there are stepping stones to get us there. Production costs have to come down. Right now, the economics don’t work. It will be 5 to 10 years before all of this will affect the price at the pump.”
Until the economics begin to work in the algae industry’s favour, Simon says that the company will first pick “low hanging fruit” in order to increase both revenues and efficiencies. One of these goals is to ensure that creating algae fuel doesn’t take more energy to grow than the amount of carbon dioxide that the algae would absorb. Although algae biofuel has faced its share of criticism, many believe that the increasing cost of petroleum will lead to a massive growth in the market in the next few years. Currently, the planet consumes 83 million barrels of oil each day, and while algae has the potential to bring that figure down, the science has got a long way to go.
Pike Research president Clint Wheelock said of the growing industry: “Although the algae-based biofuels market will grow rapidly once key cost hurdles are overcome, widespread scale-up will be hampered by a number of difficult challenges including access to nutrients, water, and private capital.”
What would help is government incentives similar to those that the ethanol industry receives. And if you needed any more evidence that algae might be the future of biofuels, then you may be interested to know that BP, Chevron Corp. and ExxonMobil all have investments in algae. Exxon has even invested $600 million into research.