Bio Architecture Lab, Maker of Seaweed Biofuel, Snags $8M Venture Round, DuPont Deal
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a slang term for a kind of algae, albeit a more complex, multicellular form of the organism sometimes called “macroalgae.” That’s different from what most people consider ordinary algae in freshwater ponds, which can consist of much smaller organisms—sometimes single-cell entities. Bio Architecture Lab has set its sights on seaweed or “macroalgae” largely because it believes it will be easier to convert into fuel at low cost, and at industrial scale, than microalgae, Parekh says.
Ocean seaweed also should have advantages because it doesn’t require fresh water, and shouldn’t need fertilizer, he says. The company is also seeking to stay on the good side of environmental activists by working with existing ocean farmers in the aquaculture industry, Parekh says.
Bio Architecture Lab has its sights set on some territory in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Chile which has high-density seaweed, and where the company has obtained permits to test its technology in a pilot project, Parekh says. It is in the process of getting some additional necessary permits, he says.
If this pilot project shows promise, the potential markets for renewable fuel and derivative chemicals will be numerous. Parekh didn’t want to go into much detail about what chemicals his company wants to make, but he noted that plastics and carpet fibers are made now with petroleum derivatives, and companies like DuPont are looking for other ways to make those kinds of products.
Bio Architecture Lab doesn’t see itself raising the huge sums of capital required to manufacture and distribute all this fuel on its own, so its strategy will be to focus on R&D and find bigger partners who need the technology, Parekh says.
The startup was founded in 2007 by UW’s Baker, chief scientist Yasuo Yoshikuni, and president Yuki Kashiyama. Bio Architecture Lab now has more than 10 employees at three different locations—Seattle; Santiago, Chile; and Berkeley, CA, where a research team has been set up to be near a critical mass of biofuel scientists drawn there by Jay Keasling‘s Joint BioEnergy Institute and synthetic biology lab at the University of California. The company has no formal relationship with the Keasling lab or institute, Parekh says.
Bio Architecture Lab is planning to use some of the new money to hire some scientists, and see how far it can take the technology in the pilot project. The combination of the two deals strengthens the company’s financial future, and may help it get in the door with more potential partners, Parekh says. “This is significant for us. It’s going to provide us with considerable runway,” he says.