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Bionavitas speeds algae growth with ‘light rods’
Algae may ultimately be the preferred plant for making biofuels and other petrochemical replacements, but high costs have kept it from making a commercial impact to date. Seattle-area start-up Bionavitas on Tuesday disclosed a technique, using pencil-shaped rods, to bring more light to algae to stimulate growth and, potentially, improve the economics of algae farming. The acrylic rods–called Light Immersion Technology–penetrate the surface of a pool of algae to bring light deeper into the pool. Bionavitas said the rod addresses one of the main barriers to algae as an all-purpose feedstock and boosts productivity 10 times compared to existing methods. The 3-year-old company, which has been funded by angel investors until now, is in the process of negotiating to raise a series A round that CEO and co-founder Michael Weaver anticipates will be tens of millions of dollars. That money will be used to build a biorefinery and a pilot plant for making biofuel from algae, he said. “There are a lot of companies developing processes for growing algae. But there’s a fundamental flaw to all those. You quickly become light-constrained, which is why you don’t have massive growth,” he said. “So it’s all well and good to modify genes or find a special strain, but if you can’t grow a large mass, you got nothing.” For making biofuels in an outdoor pond, the rods float on the surface and bring sunlight in. The rods are shaped so that incoming light is reflected internally until it reaches the bottom and can penetrate out. Bionavitas also intends to make algae oil for nutraceuticals, which offer higher margins than biofuels. Later this year, it’s planning to build an indoor closed bioreactor in Redmond, Wash., which will use dozens of light rods on the surface of a vat of algae. Instead of sunlight, the company intends to use red and blue LED lights, which will flicker to save on energy costs, Weaver said.


February 25, 2009 - Posted by | Technology Future Shock

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