GreenFuel Technologies is building its first commercial plant, confirmed Cary Bullock, the company's vice president for business development and former CEO, on Monday.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based startup, which plans to grow algae to make biofuel and to recycle carbon dioxide from smokestacks, is already in the "advanced part" of the first phase of construction and plans to complete the plant in two to three years, he said.
"It'll be the first time anybody's ever used this class of technology at this size," Bullock said. He declined to put a number to the size, other than to say the plant would be "large" and of "truly commercial size."
Xconomy wrote last week that the company had reached a $92 million agreement to build an algae-based fuel plant in Europe, citing undisclosed sources and saying GreenFuel declined to confirm or deny the news.
Bullock on Monday told Greentech Media the news is "not something I put out on the media, but I wouldn't deny it."
The company isn't ready to release more information about the project, he said, but expects to do so after coordinating with its partners.
The technology GreenFuel will use is based on the field tests it has conducted since 2005 -- with some improvements, he said.
After all, the company, which originally planned to build full-scale installations last year, ended up laying off about half its staff instead after it closed one of its algae greenhouses in Arizona and discovered that its algae-harvesting system would cost more than twice the company's targets, Xconomy reported in July (see Xconomy posts here, here and here).
Bullock wouldn't go into details about the technology at the new plant, but said it's "better than it was."
He added that Greenfuel is confident its technology will work at a larger size because it's very modular.
"Once you get to a particular point, you just duplicate what you've done before," he said.
Rick Kment, a biofuels analyst at DTN Research, called the news "a significant step," but said some risk remains as the company builds its -- and the world's -- first commercial algae plant.
Because the company has released so little information about its technology for the commercial plant, it's also difficult to judge the significance of the new plant, he said, adding that while it's not impossible, the technology seems "almost too good to be true."
"Until we really know the size and overall net cost, we can't judge how much of a dent this will make," Kment said. "Are they going to be able to produce enough algae at a commercially viable price? And is the algae able to produce enough [fuel] to pay for the plant? … Once we see that plant come online, we'll know a little more."