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Archive → March, 2011

Solix Biofuels Raises Money, Changes Name

Algae-growing firm Solix Biofuels has raised $16 million in a second round of venture capital funding. It has also changed its name to Solix BioSystems “to better reflect its role as a leading provider of algae production systems.”

Solix photobioreactor

Solix BioSystems' Lumian AGS4000, an algae grower. Credit: Solix BioSystems

There are many, many firms working hard right this moment trying to make money by growing algae for biofuel. Solix joins at least one other firm – OriginOil – in looking to make money from firms looking to make money with algae.

The first two most difficult things about using algae as a feedstock for biofuels is 1) growing algae and 2) growing a lot of algae.

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Is Solar Sitting Pretty?

One would have thought it would be absurd to try to find a silver lining in the week-long tragedy still unfolding in Japan. But the world’s investors have strong imaginations, apparently. Earlier this week while searching for cleantech news, I came across a number of articles describing a huge run up in share prices of solar firms.

Bloomberg now reports, “The Bloomberg Global Leaders Solar Index has risen about 9.1 percent since March 11, when an earthquake and tsunami in Japan knocked out cooling systems at a Tokyo Electric Power Co. reactor, releasing radioactive pollution.” But the piece quickly lets the air out of the balloon, saying “While the incident triggered speculation governments will scale back nuclear power in favor of renewable, solar panel demand is stagnating.”

Basically, after a doubling of solar installions last year – led by Germany – governments have ratcheted back the incentives that are the primary driver of demand for companies like U.S.-based First Solar. First Solar was one of the leading firms to receive positive fall-out from the nuclear disaster this week.

Because solar is not now the main focus of government interventions, any turning away from nuclear energy plans is more likely to benefit energy efficiency and natural gas projects, Bloomberg reports.

More Plastics From Plants

If you’ve ever walked up to a potted plant, thinking it was real, and then discovered it was – gasp – made of plastic, then you’ve seen the kind of plant that Metabolix researchers dream about.

Recently, Metabolix published a paper describing their latest plant trials and efforts to get plants to, if not actually be entirely made of plastic, grow an industrially useful quantity of polymer inside their cells. In the trial, which used tobacco plants, the researchers upped the level of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)* in research crop tobacco to levels of up to 9% of the total dry plant weight. PHA levels of up to 17% were found in leaf tissue. The company figures its engineered tobacco plants produce 10 times more PHA bioplastic than in previously published reports.

Photo:Dale Callaham, Central Microscopy Facility, University of Massachusetts in Amherst

The result is probably better described, though, by the photo of a tobacco plant cell chock full of polymer blobs. One has to wonder what the upper limit would be for the percentage of polymer in a plant before it turns into the species more commonly found in the back of a greasy diner.

*Two bits of additional information: Metabolix says PHAs ”have a broad range of industrial applications as performance, biodegradable bioplastics and as renewable starting materials for the production of a number of existing specialty and commodity chemicals. As polymers, PHA bioplastics offer excellent performance in use and have the unique ability to biodegrade in a wide range of environments including compost, soil, wetlands, marine and anaerobic digestion facilities.”

And C&EN visited Metabolix last summer, you can read about it here.