Algae on the Move: The 2008 Algae Biomass Summit Wrap-up

Taking a look back at the recently held 2008 Algae Biomass Summit that took place from October 23-24 in Seattle, it is hard to believe how far this young industry has come in just one year.

Last fall, the Inaugural Algae Biomass Summit had a solid group of 350 attendees who came to discuss algae’s future in renewable energy. Out of that conference the Algal Biomass Organization (ABO) was formed with the mission to accelerate the development of the algae industry.

Now, just one short year later, there was double the turnout with 700 people attending, representing more than a dozen countries worldwide. This wide gathering of algae producers, scientists, investors and policy-makers left Seattle with new ideas, partnerships and an enthusiasm to continue developing a road map for the industry.

Key Accomplishments

In terms of shared knowledge, the world’s leading algae scientists, technologists, process engineers and entrepreneurs came together to present data, findings and conclusions on projects including pilot plants, innovative growth technologies and algal strain selection. The summit provided an open forum to discuss successes, challenges and make recommendations for moving the science of the industry forward.

The summit was also an important arena for business networking. Not only were the summit’s presentations of the highest scientific quality, but the caliber of attendees from across the industry made for productive business connections and potential contracts to be discussed. CEOs, vice presidents, and directors were exposed to new and innovative ideas, leading to future collaborations.

“We have been following a very well-defined technical and commercial roadmap strategy,” said Rick Johnson, summit attendee and vice president, sales and marketing at Biofuel Producers of America. “We believe that we will look back at participation in this conference and clearly identify it as a critical step in our commercialization efforts. The information, relationships and contacts developed and nurtured at this conference will prove to be fundamental to our continued success.”

Mobilizing the Industry

As the official conference of the ABO, the summit drove new membership for the organization and solidified the formation of committees tasked with addressing particular needs of the industry. One are that was identified as necessary for the industry was the continued growth of the ABO’s Government and Public Affairs Committee, which will work to create a unified industry voice in order to influence federal-policy making to the benefit of the algae industry. Included in this effort is the commitment to host the annual meeting in Washington, D.C. during the first 100 days of the new administration.

In addition, remarks from keynote speaker and pre-eminent clean technology investor Vinod Khosla as well as guest speaker U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) provided insightful and energizing commentary on the state of the industry. Khosla, the keynote speaker for day one, began by stating his belief that given the continued developments in technology, algae can play a significant role in the replacement of petroleum oil.

“I am here today because I believe algae can be a solution,” stated Khosla. “I’m convinced someone here will break the code. The exciting part is to see over 600 people in this room solving the problem. In fact, someone out there may have already solved it and I just don’t know yet.”

Congressman Inslee, a vocal cleantech supporter and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, made a passionate appeal for all conference attendees to engage with their Congressional delegations to help educate them on the powerful potential of algae to serve as a renewable energy source.

“I ask you to contact your Congressmen and tell them what’s going on in your [algae] labs. You must become engaged with Washington, D.C. through work with the Algal Biomass Organization,” said Inslee. “Just as the generation before us changed the world through victory in World War Two, our generation can change the world by providing long-term clean energy sources.”

Sessions throughout the conference were as broad-reaching as the attendees’ backgrounds. Presentation topics included how the new American President will affect the industry; an overview of ongoing governmental algae-to-biofuels programs by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL); the VC (venture capitalist) perspective on the impact of the current economic crisis and how it might impact future private investments in algae; the use of genetically modified algae strains; the harvesting of pollution-caused wild algal blooms; algae’s role in global food supplies and the environmental sustainability of algae.

Of particular interest to many in attendance was an in-depth look at the prospects for algal-based jet fuel in the commercial aviation market. Representatives from airline industry leaders such as The Boeing Company, Airbus, UOP (a Honeywell Company) and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines outlined steps they are taking to address carbon dioxide emissions related to air travel, including the use of algal-based jet fuel.

“Whether for use in commercial aviation or transportation, we’ve seen this week that algae-based biofuels will have a role to play,” said Billy Glover, managing director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes and co-chair of the Algal Biomass Organization. “The success of this year’s conference was due to the powerful blend of leaders from science, finance and business, coming together to discuss real solutions utilizing algae.”

This year’s summit is a strong signal of the importance of algae in our nation’s and our world’s energy needs. While there are still many important milestones to reach in regards to algal production, extraction, investment and legislation, the two-day conference in Seattle reinforced this burgeoning industry’s commitment to moving algal-based fuels from potential to reality.

John F. Pierce is a partner in Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s Seattle office, where he represents clients in connection with the development and finance of projects involving wind, solar (including photovoltaic, concentrated and thermal), geothermal and biomass energy, as well as those involving renewable fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and advanced-generation biofuels.

Thomas Byrne is the CEO of Byrne & Company Limited and the Secretary for the Algal Biomass Organization. Mr. Byrne focuses the on assisting individuals and groups with renewable energy projects and business organizational needs.

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Byrne & Company Limited were the official hosts of the Algae Biomass Summit.

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