Euglena is risking everything “Tesla style” on algal jet fuel

J reports that Euglena Co., a Tokyo-based maker of nutritional supplements, is spending ¥5.8 billion ($5.3 million USD) on building a test refinery that converts algae into biofuel used to power jets and vehicles. The investment is equal to about half of last year’s total revenue for the company, though it will only produce five barrels a day. By comparison, its larger processing partner, JXTG Holdings Inc., has a daily refining capacity of about 320,000 barrels at its biggest plant.

“The fact that a company with a revenue of our size is investing in facilities that won’t make a profit means we’re risking everything,” Euglena’s director Akihiko Nagata said.

It must take risks, Mr. Nagata said, if it is to try to reach the heady heights of the company’s muse­ — Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc. While a comparison to the U.S. company, with a market value of $50 billion, seems far-fetched, Mr. Nagata says his company draws inspiration from the electric-vehicle maker’s willingness to risk near-term profits and make big investments for longer-term goals.

Mr. Nagata sees the test refinery as a major step toward building and operating a commercial biofuel plant that can produce 2,000 barrels a day of jet fuel and diesel by 2025, and the company has the backing of JXTG, the country’s biggest refiner, as well as major airline ANA Holdings Inc.

“I always see our company as similar to Tesla,” Mr. Nagata said. “Taking risks to challenge difficulties.”

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