[USA] The Department of Energy Algae Biomass/BETO program should be more supportive and collaborative with the needs of the commercial algae production industry. For decades, algae technologies that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars have been sitting on shelves and creating no licensing value due to the high restrictions and fees, or so we have been led to believe.
The DOE Algae Biomass Algae Research Grant Funding Program has been significantly reduced over the last few years due to poor results. milestones not being met and research grant due diligence.
Today, algae research grants are virtually non-existent and lobbying efforts are understandably at an all-time low. Many algae research projects are running out of time and government funding, with private funding nowhere in sight.
National Algae Association (NAA) and its commercially-minded algae researchers, producers and equipment companies believe we can change this direction by evaluating these existing algae technologies to see if any can meet the needs of the commercial algae production industry, which might create interest from commercial algae producers and investment sources for potential licensing opportunities, resulting in value in patents and IP that is currently non-existent.
From a commercialization standpoint, NAA is the first to develop commercial criteria for reviewing potential algae technologies: they must be proven outside the lab (in a commercial environment), they must be scalable and they must have a low CAPEX to be attractive to any commercial algae producer, potential investor or lender.
Algae biofuels were tested and proven years ago by commercial airlines. NAA contacted the DOE Algae Biomass Program leadership at the time, when fossil fuel oil prices were around $110 per barrel and when we had significant interest from the investment community. We offered to facilitate an Algae Manhattan Project for Fuels bringing all proven algae biofuel technologies together at one location, prove them in a commercial production environment and create potential licensing opportunities. There was no response.
When fossil fuel oil prices came down, algae biofuels were no longer attractive or profitable, and expensive equipment paid for with taxpayer dollars was buried, locked up or liquidated. Many of the algae companies supported or promoted by the DOE have been liquidated and entire management teams are gone, but none of the decision-makers at the DOE had the same fate, and many of the researchers just moved from company to company, using their reputation and not their results.
NAA is the first non-profit algae education and production trade association in the world. Our members are commercially-minded algae researchers, producers and equipment companies We are technology-neutral and have no interest in anyone’s algae technology. We have the experience, qualifications and expertise to review the existing algae technologies to determine if they can be used in the commercial algae production industry.
Over the last decade we have received many complaints and frustrations about the grant application, award and post-award process from DOE Algae Biomass Program employees as well as algae research grant recipients. Opinions and questions arose about why the DOE Algae Biomass Program should be allowed to pick winners and losers, since they have proven that they lack experience in understanding the needs of the commercial algae production industry; the results of past algae research grant speak for themselves.
The vast majority of commercial microalgae/macroalgae producers are involved every day in commercial cultivation, selling products, opening of new markets and supply channels. Whether they are producing high-value nutraceuticals Omega 3 EPA/DHA – astaxanthin, cosmetics, food, feed, biofertilzer and bioplastics or have tonnage of algae biomass/powders with COA’s are available today on the Algae Biomass Exchange for qualified algae producers and potential off-takers/customers. Since NAA created this exchange program, we take great pride in knowing our vision of building the commercial algae production industry, opening new markets and supply channels is moving forward.
Many algae research grant recipients have attended our Algae Production workshops in The Woodland, Texas as well as other locations throughout the country. Several admittedly came seeking our information. They also request that NAA endorse their research or technology to apply for algae grants, in many cases without being able to support their claims. NAA will never endorse any claim that cannot be proven, much to the chagrin of those who have never been held accountable.
NAA has contacted various people at the DOE Algae Biomass/BETO Program for permission to review the existing algae technologies paid for with taxpayer monies – those funded by federal research grants or developed through government lab algae technologies – to see if any could meet the needs our industry and if value could be created in any of them, with no response to date. Private industry, the private investment community, and even the DOE’s own IG department thinks this is a very legitimate request. Stonewalling and non-responsiveness within the DOE Algae Biomass Program/BETO does not help the DOE Algae Program/BETO image and perception but they are government employees who seem oblivious.
After all, some have spent their entire career in this situation and if they’ve never been held accountable before, they know they won’t be now.
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