The number of technology startups in the biorefinery/bioplastics area is impressive, particularly considering weakness in the economy for the last three years.
A new one came to my attention on a LinkedIn discussion group. Ryan W. Hunt, who helped build an algae bioenergy lab at the University of Gerogia (UGA), last year cofounded a company called ALGIX, LLC to commercialize the technologies developed at the lab. UGA and Kimberly-Clark scientists are collaborating in an effort to develop thermoplastic compounds.
Ryan posted this comment:
“We are through our first year of product development and have performed over 250 formulations, of which we have evaluated over 20 resins and 5 injection molding trials. We are currently planning our first biorefinery with a large industry partner in the dairy sector for scaling up our biorefineries. We also have a contract with one of the nation’s largest aquatic biomass suppliers to provide our feedstock for product development and establishing a market presence.”
To date, ALGIX has focused on biocomposites that use either polyolefins or PLA as the base resin depending on the desired material properties and end-use application.
Ryan’s title is Director of Research and Development at ALGIX.
ALGIX is targeting agricultural operations, such as livestock farms and dairies as a source of low-cost nutrients for high productivity aquatic biomass cultivation. Using its proprietary cultivation processes, ALGIX says it can produce an order of magnitude more biomass than conventional crop production, such as corn or soy, in the same footprint. A bioremediation system takes farm effluents and uses microorganisms to convert organics into natural gas and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide and treated effluent stream is then used to grow algae on a production system designed for easy harvestability and high growth rates. The wastewater treatment results in an additional product stream of algae biomass which is harvested, dried and processed depending on the down-stream end-use application.
Algae are the smallest and simplest form of plants, yet are responsible for a substantial amount of oxygen produced on the planet. An alga cell is only micrometers in size, but can double its biomass in less than 24 hours, according to the ALGIX Web site. Algae are composed of protein, carbohydrates and lipids that can be extracted.
ALGIX, of course, didn’t invent the idea of using algae. Among the already established bioplastics producers, Cereplast has announced an effort to explore use of algae as a feedstock.
Not surprisingly, one of their targets is development of biodegradable packaging materials, as well as agricultural/horticultural products and non-woven materials.
ALGANIX collaborators include Dr. Bo Shi, who works in Corporate Research and Engineering at Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Neenah, WI. He has already been exploring thermoplastic agricultural polymers, industrial spent materials and algae-based biomasses at Kimberly-Clark for use in film, fiber and injection molded applications.