by Algae Biomass Organization
he 2019 Algae Biomass Summit, the largest algae conference in the world, kicked off Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, with opening keynote presentations and plenary discussions focused on the latest research, commercial innovation and new products that are being made possible with advanced algae production technologies.
Mark Allen, ABO’s board chair and Vice President at Accelergy Corporation, opened the Summit with an update on the developments that have propelled the algae industry’s growth over the past year. Milestones include a number of new innovations in algae-based products, new production facilities coming online, and growing bipartisan support for algae research, development and deployment.
Mr. Allen pointed to provisions in federal budget legislation that expand on R&D support at the Department of Energy, including:
- Up to $35 million in new funding for advanced algal systems projects selected by the Department of Energy’s Bioenergies Technologies Office.
- Up to $30 million funding in the federal budget for the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to support carbon capture projects, a large increase over the $14 million they received last year. Up to $6 million of this funding is specific to algae.
This is a $21 million increase over last year and would not be possible without ABO’s engagement with bipartisan supporters in Congress, or the progress the industry continues to demonstrate in vital areas, said Mr. Allen.
The event’s opening keynote by Dr. Charles Greene of Cornell University highlighted new research that demonstrates how the remarkable abilities of algae to grow fast, absorb carbon dioxide, and ease pressures on water and land use can help meet some of the most critical goals around climate change and global ecosystem preservation. Dr. Greene’s presentation examined the latest production potentials to conclude that the use of algae agriculture for food and energy instead of terrestrial crops could:
- Produce millions of gallons of liquid hydrocarbon fuels required for jet aviation, heavy vehicles, marine shipping and other applications that will be difficult to electrify,
- Produce the protein necessary to feed a global population approaching 10 billion people,
- Conserve one fifth of global freshwater consumption,
- Conserve one third of wild harvest fisheries,
- Release nearly 3 million square kilometers of cropland for reforestation,
- Decrease land use, and in combination with the decrease in fossil carbon emissions, account for a total reduction of approximately one quarter to one third of annual CO2 emissions by 2040.
The pressures on global food, energy and water supplies were a common theme on the first day of the Summit, but the need to develop products that meet the everyday demands of consumers was a lesson that some of the industry’s current leaders felt was just as important to ensure algae technologies and products become successful.
A plenary panel titled “Algae in Food and Feed Going Mainstream” featured some of the leaders in micro- and macro-algae supply chains, including Corbion, BioMar, Bluglacier, NBO3 Technologies, Blue Evolution, and Algama. All agreed that as new products enter the market it will be necessary to leverage the sustainability advantages of algae, but also acknowledge the realities of market demand.
Alvyn Severian, founder of Algama, a developer of algae-based foods, said his company’s priorities for a new product start with taste, but also include health, sustainability and pricing characteristics. “Our products must taste good or consumers will not buy them,” said Severin.
A second keynote introduced Summit attendees to one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy: agriculture. Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union discussed some of the implications of new algae provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill. The legislation that was signed into law late last year acknowledged algae for the first time as a crop, alongside corn, soy and other.
Mr. Johnson highlighted a long history among farmers working with programs that incentivize new technologies for carbon capture, emissions reductions, water conservation, and land preservation – all big advantages that come with advanced algae cultivation. “There’s always a frustration that change happens slowly, but new technology advances and political pressures are changing that,” he said.
The Algae Biomass Summit sessions cover technical advances, breakthroughs in biology and production, new products and markets, and policy developments. The Summit concludes on Thursday with site tours of Valensa International’s CO2 extraction technology and a carbon capture and algae cultivation demonstration at the Orlando Utility Commission’s Stanton Energy Center.