Conspiracy nuts are going to love this company.
Algae Systems hopes to produce fuel from algae with the OMEGA method pioneered by NASA. OMEGA, which stands for Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae, involves growing algae in large bags measuring up to a quarter-acre in size that are tethered in the ocean. Instead of being fed carbon dioxide from smokestacks or sugars, the algae would grow by feeding off of wastewater.
Besides producing algae that could be used for fuel, the process would convert the wastewater into fresh water. It's an intriguing idea, although it may be tougher to get permits for this kind of project in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. Algae Systems has talked about launching a prototype off the coast of Florida. The picture shows an artist's conception of how OMEGA might work.
But what really makes the company interesting is the diverse cast of characters behind it. Along with licensing OMEGA from NASA, Algae Systems has purchased the patent portfolio of now-defunct GreenFuel Technologies, according to sources at Algae Systems. GreenFuel, a once high-profile startup that was spun out of Harvard and MIT, proposed growing algae in clear plastic bags in the desert. Growing algae proved more difficult than anticipated and, after raising over $70 million in venture capital, GreenFuel laid off all of its employees and called it quits about a year ago.
Financial backers behind Algae Systems include EBJ Capital, an investment group focused on innovative technologies, according to Global Thermostat, a think tank/incubator for green technologies. Benjamin Bronfman, the son of whiskey billionaire and professional inheritor Edgar Bronfman Jr., is a principle at EBJ Capital. Edgar Bronfman, meanwhile, is the executive chairman of Global Thermostat, while Benjamin is a strategic advisor. (EBJ also invested in Global Thermostat.)
Benjamin is perhaps better known as the fiance of M.I.A., the Sri Lankan rapper who pens songs about oppression while ordering her nannies about and munching on truffle fries.
But wait! There's more! The managing director of Algae Systems is John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Barlow also wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead, although his work with the Dead (including classics like "Estimated Prophet" and "Cassidy") was often overshadowed by Robert Hunter's songs. Personal theory: he spent too much time with Brent.
So in one company, we have New York high society, the EFF, NASA, Bob Weir, the music and liquor industries, MIT, a defunct company, and a five-letter acronym often associated with doom. Biofuels Digest also adds that the company has received support from Google. Now you know too much. Run!
Well over one hundred companies have been formed in the last decade to produce fuel, food or green chemicals from algae. Most have not been able to secure venture investors and an even a smaller number have actually produced fuel. Some of the notable leaders in this area include Solazyme (which has a contract to produce fuel for the Navy), Sapphire Energy (which has raised over $100 million from a wide variety of investors and is erecting a test bed in New Mexico), and Solix (which counts Valero as an investor). Keep your eye on Valero: it also invested in Zeachem (cellulosic ethanol) and Algenol.
It is unclear whether or not Algae Systems has an exclusive license from NASA.