15 Algae Fuel Startups, 2010 Edition

Two and a half years ago we put together this cheat sheet on 15 algae fuel startups you need to know. But boy have things changed since then. Here’s our updated 2010 version of our original 15 algae fuel startups bringing pond scum to fuel tanks.

ZillionTV Going Direct to Consumers

product-image41ZillionTV announced today that it is expanding its distribution strategy with plans to sell directly to consumers, and has delayed the commercial launch until the second half of 2010 from its initially anticipated debut by the end of this year.
Zillion CEO Mitch Berman told us by phone that the company still plans on using telcos and other ISPs as the primary means of distribution for the service, but in areas not covered by such partnerships, it will sell its set-top box and service direct and will eventually ape the Netflix (s NFLX) model by getting on as many net-connected consumer devices such as Blu-ray players and broadband TVs. The company expects to see products with ZillionTV embedded inside them by the end of next year.
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Apple Warns of Programs Snow Leopard Won’t Play Nice With

snow_leopard_boxIn order to prepare for the arrival of Snow Leopard, and hopefully deflect some frustrated tech support calls, Apple (s aapl) overnight updated oodles of support documents and knowledge base articles. One of said documents could be vital to people looking to upgrade today, as it contains the blacklist of really incompatible software for 10.6.

The list is split into two parts. The first, which features software that will be automatically moved to an “Incompatible Software” folder, contains some familiar faces, like Unsanity’s Application Enhancer 2.0.1 and earlier, versions of which caused a fair amount of BSOD (including one of my own) when users upgraded from Tiger to Leopard. At least your system won’t just seize up and die this time around. Other programs on this list include: Read More about Apple Warns of Programs Snow Leopard Won’t Play Nice With

Algenol, Dow Chemical Team Up on Algae Fuel Plant

algenollogoThe demise of a well-funded algae fuel company earlier this year doesn’t seem to be deterring startups, or oil and plastics companies, from working on new algae fuel tech. This morning Algenol Biofuels, a Naples, Fla.-based company that uses carbon dioxide from power plants to grow algae in order to make ethanol, tells the New York Times that it is building a demonstration plant with Dow Chemical (s DOW) on a 24-acre site at Dow Chemical’s property in Freeport, Texas, which will house 3,100 bioreactors (clear troughs that grow algae) that will be able to produce up to 100,000 gallons of ethanol per year.

Dow Chemical will provide the plastic material for the bioreactors. It’s interested in Algenol’s algae tech in order to use the ethanol produced as an ingredient for plastics to replace the use of natural gas. While many companies are working on ways to create ethanol to power vehicles, the bioplastics space has been relatively neglected. For the demo project Algenol is also working with researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Membrane Technology and Research, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to improve the process and study algae fuel.

Algenol was founded in 2006 and uses a slightly different approach to algae fuel than its competitors. While most algae-to-fuel startups (15 listed here) grow algae so they can process the algae directly into fuel, Algenol collects ethanol vapors from the algae, which involves neither killing the plants nor the use of an expensive refining process. The company has reportedly raised $70 million in private backing to build out its innovation and beyond the Dow Chemical partnership Algenol has said it has an agreement with Sonora Fields (a wholly owned subsidiary of Mexican-owned BioFields) to build an $850 million project that will deliver a billion gallons of fuel a year.

See Ya: Algae Startup GreenFuel Shuts Down

After cutting nearly half its staff in January, algae producer startup GreenFuel is closing up shop. GreenFuel investor Duncan McIntyre at Polaris Venture Partners tells Greentechmedia that the company is a victim of the economy and is shutting down. That’s despite Polaris, Access Private Equity and Draper Fisher Jurvetson pumping more than $10 million into the company last year. Sounds like that ever-elusive Series C round, which was part of GreenFuel’s 7-step turnaround plan and was always presented as within reach, never got raised.

Producing algae at that scale — the company won a $92 million, 25,000 ton-per-year algae production deal with Spanish engineering firm Aurantia — just proved to be too expensive. And with the downturn, large amounts of financing for risky projects like algae plants are just not available anymore. The closure comes after a lengthy and much-publicized turnaround plan from ethernet inventor and Polaris partner Bob Metcalfe, who became interim CEO before former Dow Chemical executive Simon Upfill-Brown took the helm last year.

Even in light of the poor economy, GreenFuel seemed to be plagued with more problems than most cleantech firms. In numerous conversations I’ve had with execs at other competing algae firms as well as former employees, the topic of mismanagement has come up. A poorly run business, a nascent market, a new technology and now a crappy economy will pretty much deliver the same result (bye-bye) for any company, even if it starts with a good idea. Well, now that GreenFuel has passed on, look to the other algae startups (like Sapphire) to take advantage of the opening.

StatShot: Slumdog’s Gold Irresistable to Pirates

Just when you though Slumdog Millionaire had won every award, and topped every list — BAM! — it pulls out another victory. The Oscar-winner was the Most Pirated Movie on BitTorrent for the week ending March 1 according to TorrentFreak. Yeah! That is definitely going on the DVD cover. Other Oscar-nominated films in the top 10 included Milk, Changeling, and Transporter 3 (juuuuuust kidding about that last one, unless “most shirtless fight scenes” was a new category).

TorrentFreak’s Top Downloaded Movies on BitTorrent As of March 1, 2009
Rank Last Week Title
1 Slumdog Millionaire
2 8 Valkyrie
3 1 Role Models
4 Transporter 3
5 10 Punisher War Zone
6 2 Australia
7 4 The Day the Earth Stood Still
8 3 Seven Pounds
9 Milk
10 9 Changeling

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Algae Startup GreenFuel Cutting Almost Half Its Staff

GreenFuel is encountering even more hurdles in its path to producing algae, fed with recycled CO2, that can be turned into biofuel. This time it’s the battered economy throwing up roadblocks, and the company has cut nearly half its staff, according to XConomy. One of the recently laid off folks confirmed the news in an email with us this morning. Update: GreenFuel also confirmed the layoffs with us as well.

The layoffs are yet another setback for the Massachusetts-based firm, which also did layoffs in 2008, and had set out a seven-step turnaround plan to help get it back on track. GreenFuels’ previous problems have included struggling to find a replacement CEO to take over for Polaris Ventures Bob Metcalfe (former Dow Chemical executive Simon Upfill-Brown became its CEO in July), and shutting down a greenhouse in Arizona after discovering that its algae-growing technology was more expensive than expected.

One part of the company’s seven-step plan was to raise a Series C round of financing. Last May, the company raised a $13.9 million Series B round from existing investors, including Access Private Equity, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Polaris Venture Partners. We never heard that the company completed that funding, and if the company is cutting spending, then financing is clearly a problem.

The former employee also said that the company had lost an important customer. Update: A GreenFuel spokesperson says that “the Aurantia project is still underway.” We’re waiting to hear back from GreenFuel if its deal with Spanish engineering company Aurantia is still intact. More when we know more.

Algae in the Air: 5 Startups Turning Algae Into Jet Fuel

A kerosene-based aviation fuel called Jet Propellant 8 made up more than 90 percent of the fuel used by the Department of Defense in 2006, at a cost of $6 billion, according to Cleantech Group. Take all of that fuel, and combine it with commercial airlines’ needs, volatile fuel prices, and urgent calls for energy independence, and you have a massive market all but begging for a cheaper, renewable alternative. A growing number of companies are now racing to supply it with algae.

Some, like Science Applications International and General Atomics, recent recipients of military contracts for algal biofuels R&D, have been around for decades. But startups that have launched in the last 10 years, including the five fast-moving ventures below, could be the ones that finally get pond scum ready for take off.

Solazyme: The San Francisco-based firm uses synthetic biology and genetic engineering to boost biofuel yields from algae. Solzyme grows its algae in fermentation tanks sans sunshine, feeding it with sugar instead of light. In September, it announced a major breakthrough: an algal fuel that doesn’t freeze at high altitude.

Inventure Chemical Technology: Inventure makes a reactor system that uses thermochemical processes and catalysts to turn algae into three types of fuel, including jet fuel. While Inventure plans to sell the processing technology rather than the algae product itself, it has partnered with algae producer Seambiotic to build an ethanol and biodiesel plant in Israel. The company closed its first round of funding ($2 million) in mid-2007 for developing jet fuel processes.
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GreenFuel Building $92M Algae Farm in Spain

GreenFuel, a startup that uses recycled CO2 to grow algae, which can be turned into biofuels and feed, says tonight that it is in the process of building 100-hectares of algae greenhouses — at the cost of $92 million — that can produce 25,000 tons of algae biomass per year. The algae farms are being built in conjunction with Spanish engineering company Aurantia at Holcim’s cement plant near Jerez, Spain.
GreenFuel says it has entered the second phase of this project, which includes harvesting a 100-square-meter algae bioreactor, and it says the project is meant to prove that the process of turning recycled carbon from industrial emissions into algae is economical. Back in March Xconomy reported that GreenFuel had reached an agreement worth up to $92 million to build an algae-based fuel plant in Europe; sounds like this is it.
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