A Good Day for Pond Scum: San Diego’s Emerging Algae-Based Industries Set Heavy Schedule

4/28/09Follow @bvbigelow

Efforts to build a new technology cluster of algae-based industries in the region—and to make San Diego a center of excellence in algal biotechnology—are coming together in an unusual series of events today.

“I’m calling it algae day in San Diego,” says Rick Halperin, project manager for the regional algae initiative, a virtual organization formed to encourage collaboration among government, business, research, and academic organizations. And it appears that each of those institutions has organized an event today that is focused on different aspects of the economic promise that algae biofuels and related technologies represent for San Diego and Imperial counties.

“It’s all about building a common agenda,” Halperin tells me. “All in all, what’s nice is that we all appear to be pulling together. The common agenda is really about making this region a center for algae excellence.”

Two events planned for today are by invitation-only. But Halperin maintains that they reflect the extent of elite interest that San Diego’s regional algae efforts have attracted, saying, “I don’t think anyone else is gathering leaders at such a diverse high level.”

One of the invitation-only events was organized by Lee Stein of Prize Capital, which works closely with the X Prize Foundation in developing new methods of funding innovation. Halperin says Stein’s work session is intended to finalize terms for a yet-to-be-announced prize competition that is intended to spur key innovations needed by the emerging algae-biotechnology industry.

Halperin describes the other exclusive session as a daylong, closed-door meeting between Shell, the global energy and petrochemical conglomerate, and HR BioPetroleum, a renewable energy technology company based in Hawaii and La Jolla that has been developing algae-to-biofuels technology. Halperin says he’s not privy to the subject of discussion, but the session suggests that conventional energy companies like Shell are closely following emerging technologies that use genetically engineered algae to make gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.

Other events taking place today are:

—A breakfast panel discussion about cleantech as “an upside driver in a down market” sponsored by The San Diego Venture Group. The 8 a.m. presentation at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla includes Steven Parry, managing director in the Santa Barbara, CA, office of NGEN Partners, Don Wood, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson in Menlo Park, CA, and Marianne Wu, a partner at Mohr Davidow in Menlo Park, CA.

—A press conference at 12:30 p.m. at UC San Diego to announce the launch of a multi-institutional science and technology consortium called SD-CAB, the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology. The academic center, founded by scientists at UCSD, The Scripps Research Institute, and other local research institutions, was formed to make sustainable algae-based fuel production and carbon dioxide abatement a reality within five to 10 years.

—A regional algae stakeholders meeting organized by Cleantech San Diego and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. that begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Scripps Seaside Forum of UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Halperin, who helped organize this event, describes it as “a master-planning exercise” for key players and interest groups. He says the session is intended to explore the economic proposition that new algae-based technologies represent. “It’s not just a meeting to get together and have a nice time,” Halperin says. “We need to make sure that we’re appropriately establishing the right vision and collectively setting the right action items…There’s just a number of things that we’re ready to get started and to be working on.”

Halperin says he organized the stakeholders meeting to first provide an overview of San Diego’s regional algae initiative, and to revisit the vision and commitment needed to build on the area’s emerging prominence. He also organized a series of short presentations by various leaders as a round up of progress in specific areas. They include:

—A presentation on SD-CAB by scientist Steve Mayfield of The Scripps Research Institute.

—An overview of algae biofuel development efforts among federal agencies by David Hazlebech of General Atomics, the San Diego-based government contractor.

—Algae biofuels development among venture-backed companies and the prospects for private capital in the region.

—How Sempra Energy, the San Diego-based energy conglomerate, views regional plans for an algae-based energy industry.

—An overview of plans to use algae in water remediation plans for the Imperial Valley’s Salton Sea.

—The possible role for integrating algae water remediation technologies in San Diego’s wastewater treatment facilities.

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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