San Diego Algae Biofuels Industry Gains Steam With R&D Consortium

1/21/09Follow @bvbigelow

The San Diego region is undertaking a broad initiative to accelerate development of algae-to-biofuels technology by establishing a new organization, the San Diego Center for Algae-based Biofuels, or SD-CAB. The center is being organized by a consortium of academic and industry researchers and represents a regional effort to make sustainable algae-based biofuel production a reality in the next 5 to 10 years, says Steve Kay, dean of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego.

Kay says the center is currently virtual, with initial funding for SD-CAB coming from what he described as “a corporate affiliates program.” He didn’t elaborate, but such an effort might attract financial support, for example,from a big oil company. In any case, I recently counted at least nine companies in the San Diego area that are working to develop algae-based substitutes for conventional petroleum products. Most of them are early-stage startups, but the list includes SAIC (NYSE: SAI) and privately held General Atomics. Both are major government contractors accustomed to managing collaborative research programs, and both recently got grants from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to develop technologies that use algae to make jet fuel.

The collaborative effort behind the new center emerged from a non-profit membership organization called Cleantech San Diego, which was formed in late 2007 by the city of San Diego and local economic development groups.

Lisa Bicker, Cleantech San Diego’s CEO, told me last week she helped organize an initial meeting of scientists and industry officials last July—just to talk about who’s doing what … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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