Algae: 2015, the Year in Review

Carr-ABOBy Matt Carr, Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization, special to The Digest

The 2015 conference season is coming to a close and a common theme seems to be that the state of the bioeconomy is one of transition. Speaking for the hundreds of innovating companies in the algae industry: We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Low oil prices, company mergers or evolving business strategies may be easily spun by the skeptics as reasons to fret, but in the case of our industry they are almost all illustrations of a flexible platform technology adjusting to meet its full potential. After all, algae remain the best feedstock for fuels, food and renewable chemicals that must compete on sustainability as well as performance.

The optimism behind these adjustments can be seen in the number of companies that are stepping up to push the entire industry forward. It can also be seen in the new products that are hitting markets. And it can be seen in the algae industry’s success influencing policy and attracting funding for research and development.

The membership of the Algae Biomass Organization saw great success in 2015. Sixteen new companies joined our ranks in 2015, representing a great cross section of our industry: companies involved in food, feed, chemicals, carbon utilization and even disease treatment. As the breadth of solutions enabled by algae has increased, so has our membership.

By nearly every measure the 2015 Algae Biomass Summit in Washington, DC was among our most successful. We had more event sponsors and revenues, more speaker and poster presentations, more new products to discuss and a more diverse group of attendees than we’ve ever seen at the event.

ABO’s leadership also become more diverse in 2015, and influential. New board members from companies like LanzaTech and Joule rounded out a group that is guiding the algae industry’s policy priorities at the highest levels.

ABO members met with more Members of Congress, White House staff and agency representatives and achieved our single most important policy goal of the year – getting carbon utilization approved by the EPA for the Clean Power Plan.

Our domestic success is being noticed internationally. ABO and its members are now travelling regularly to build partnerships with industry and government colleagues from Beijing to Berlin. My own travel schedule has had me in Japan recently and off to Portugal next.

It’s worth noting that while low oil prices have hammered the fossil industry, they have not impacted innovation in the algae space. Member companies are continuing to innovate not only on fuels, but also on a range of other products. Solazyme has introduced a new cooking oil, hailed as one of a number of new algae superfoods, as well as a new algae-derived surfactant. Algix is marketing algae-derived plastic spools for 3-D printing and other renewable resins. Others are marketing skin care products, Omega-3 nutraceuticals and more.

All of this is the work of algae companies that are serious about success. Innovation is about building an exciting technology, but its also about pushing policy levers, running a business, and taking full advantage of your potentials. That’s why at ABO we are only optimistic about our industry’s future.

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