Aurora Algae completes construction of demonstration plant

By Erin Voegele | March 04, 2011

California-based Aurora Algae has completed construction on its demonstration-scale facility in Western Australia. According to Scott McDonald, Aurora Algae’s chief financial officer, the facility is currently undergoing commissioning and inoculation, and is scheduled to be fully operational by the end of March. The company has also established new corporate headquarters in Hayward, Calif.

“Less than six months after first announcing our algae-based platform, we’re several significant steps closer to commissioning production of our high-value, proprietary products,” said Aurora Algae CEO Greg Bafalis. “Our new facilities in Hayward and Australia were completed ahead of schedule and under budget, accelerating our ability to support and drive our initial customer and partner engagements. The combination of our proprietary algae strains and production process, combined with the ideal growing conditions of Western Australia, will fundamentally change the economics of algae production.”

Aurora Algae’s technology is focused on the use of open raceway ponds to cultivate algae. According to McDonald, the company’s ponds have been specifically designed to be energy efficient, thereby increasing the economical feasibility of algae production. “A lot of it has to do with fluid dynamics,” he said. “And, being able to do that in an energy efficient way. A primary cost of operating open ponds is the movement of water…which requires power. The fluid dynamics and the way [our] raceways are constructed allow for less consumption of energy.”

The demonstration facility in Australia includes six one-acre raceway ponds, four 400-square meter ponds, and four 50-square meter ponds. Aurora Algae was awarded a $2 million grant by the Australian government under its Low Emissions Energy Development Fund to support the project. To date, the company has received $750,000 of the funding. McDonald said benchmarks that have been achieved to date will enable the company to collect an additional $1.1 million within the next two months. The $150,000 balance will be paid out in the future, as Aurora Algae works to develop its first commercial location.

While McDonald was unable to release specific information on the algae strain that is being employed by his company, he did note that it is a salt-tolerant variety that has been specifically selected and optimized for its high lipid content.

Aurora Algae currently expects to begin construction of its initial commercial-scale algae production facility in early 2012. According to McDonald, the facility is scheduled to be operational by 2013. Aurora Algae initially plans to partner with companies that will utilize its algae for the production of biofuels, omega-3 fatty acids, and animal feed. However, McDonald notes that the company may choose to process its own algae into end products in the future. 


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