Algae Fuel’s Pioneers

Research into biofuels made from single-celled organisms is attracting scientists, entrepreneurs, and even Big Oil companies such as ExxonMobil. But some observers question whether the technology is scalable and affordable.

Algenol Sapphire Solazyme Synthetic Genomics
HQ: Bonita Springs, Florida
CLAIM TO FAME: May 2010 joint venture with Valero, one of the largest U.S. oil refiners; partnership with Dow Chemical
METHOD: Growing algae inside “soda bottle” photobioreactors made of cheap plastic, which analyst Mark Bünger calls “an approach that makes a lot of sense.”
HQ: La Jolla, California
CLAIM TO FAME: Besides CJ Warner, boasts BP vet Dan Sajkowski as senior director of downstream technology and a board that includes former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro and biotech VC David Shaw.
METHOD: Cultivating algae in open ponds, similar to swimming pools.
HQ: South San Francisco, California
CLAIM TO FAME: Biofuels Digest‘s No. 1 hottest company in bioenergy in 2009 — 2010. Already selling thousands of gallons of fuel to the U.S. Navy.
METHOD: Feeding sugar to its algae, which it grows in metal photobioreactors, like those used to brew beer.
HQ: La Jolla, California
CLAIM TO FAME: In July 2009, ExxonMobil announced a $600 million investment that helped put algae on the map. Headed by Human Genome Project’s Craig Venter.
METHOD: Investigating whether to raise algae in tubular photobioreactors or open ponds.

Read More: Former BP Exec Cynthia Warner Left Big Oil for Big Algae – And She’s Not Alone


About the author

Anya Kamenetz is the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her 2011 ebook The Edupunks’ Guide was funded by the Gates Foundation


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