December 31, 2008

Company Hopes To Turn Algae Into Oil

Employees of OriginOil in Los Angeles are working to learn how algae is grown with hopes of using those methods to create an imitation oil to replace petroleum.

However, the ten employees of OriginOil aren't alone in their hopes to create a slimy substitute. Hundreds of other companies are interested in finding an affordable way to convert algae to energy.

Founded in June 2007 by brothers Riggs Eckelberry, CEO and president, and inventor Nicholas Eckelberry, OriginOil began with a bioreactor that speeds algae growth in February 2008. The company intends to allow its partners to develop more of these bioreactors by 2010.

The technology uses a Helix BioReactor. The shaft in the middle of the bioreactor rotates to allow low-energy lights to speed the growth of algae in layers around-the-clock.

The oil is then extracted from the organism's cell walls using a chemical-free microwave process.

"We are more of a collaborator than a competitor," said Riggs Eckelberry, explaining a major reason why he felt the company stood out.

OriginOil, he says, wants to provide the method, the technology of algae growth and leave the manufacture of machines and devices to others. In OriginOil's plan, it would link with licensed partners around the world where its style of algae bioreactors would be deployed.

"We think of ourselves as the operating system of the algae industry," Riggs Eckelberry said.

"Once all the technology barriers to make algae are overcome -- and that goes hand-in-hand with resolving the price barriers -- everybody is going to make algae. It won't be five producers. It will be 100,000 producers around the world," he said.

The technology is modular, scalable and portable, Riggs Eckelberry said.

Privately held Sapphire Energy of San Diego has made a form of gasoline from algae and is lobbying the incoming Obama Administration to fund algae research.

Sapphire has been funded by $100 million in venture capital from Bill Gates, Arch Venture Partners and others.


On the Net: