Chile Seaweed Technology

Seaweed image from TankGirlJones via Flickr.

Bio Architecture Lab (BAL), headquartered in California with a seaweed farming operation in Chile, is developing a process to transform seaweed into fuel. Seaweed doesn’t use land and fresh water that would be better used for growing food and does not cause the environmental destruction of ethanol production in the USA from corn/maize and in Brazil from sugar cane. Processing corn/maize consumes almost as much energy as it produces, and would not be economical without government subsidies. Seaweed grows faster than land plants and continues to grow in winter. BAL has attracted investment from Chilean venture capitalists and Aurus Bios and Austral Capital. Chile has also worked with Norwegian aquafarmers for many years developing the second largest farmed salmon industry in the world, and BAL has enticed investment from a Norwegian venture capitalist Energy Capital Management.

The large Norwegian oil company Statoil is also working with BAL:

As part of a strategic partnership with startup Bio Architecture Lab, Statoil will fund research and development for BAL’s technology, which converts Norwegian seaweed (aka macro algae) into ethanol. Statoil will be responsible for managing seaweed aquafarming operations, and the two companies will work together to develop a demonstration facility in Norway. If all goes well, Statoil will begin large-scale commercialization in the country and elsewhere in Europe.

Dry seaweed courtesy of Smoobs via Flickr.

Like so many other businesses, BAL survives on government subsidies. They sell a process to Dupont for transforming seaweed into isobutanol, which Dupont sells to the USA government. The seaweed farming operation is subsidized by CORFO, the economic central planning agency of the Chilean state. CORFO also provides the majority of Austral Capital funds, some of which is invested in BAL.

Other governments are harvesting energy from ocean plants. The Philippine state uses technology developed at a Korean state university to produce ethanol from seaweed, similar to the BAL project in Chile. Solazyme transforms algae into oil and sells it to the USA Navy, and has expanded recently into private industry, selling oil to power a United Airlines jet traveling from Houston to Chicago. Solazyme hopes to sell 20 million more gallons of aviation fuel.

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