Aurora Algae’s Matt Caspari On Growing Algae in Australia
October 11, 2012
ecently Aurora Algae announced the successful completion of requirements for a two million dollar (AUD) Low Emissions Energy Development (LEED) grant, which has been used to advance the Company’s algae-based biomass production at its demonstration facility in Karratha, Western Australia. The Government-sponsored grant has enabled Aurora to develop a pilot production facility that is producing between 12-15 metric tons of algal biomass per month, within six 4,000 square meters (one acre) ponds.
The next phase of the program will be to expand Aurora facilities and produce biomass on a commercial scale. “Aurora Algae plans to break ground in Maitland in 2014 for an expanded commercial facility consisting of 100 hectares (250 acres) of algae ponds, capable of producing up to 600 metric tons of biomass per month, and scalable to 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres),” said Matthew Caspari, managing director at Aurora Algae.
Caspari took the time recently to further explain the Company’s Australian strategy, and more about the international algae company’s growth plan.
You founded the company in the California Bay Area. Why did you move the production operations to Australia?
When we first began evaluating potential locations for our pilot production facility, we identified a variety of factors that would impact the efficiency, yield, and value of our crops. Ideal locations needed a combination of high solar radiation, warm temperatures, minimal rainfall, ready availability of CO2, an abundance of flat, arid land, and easy access to seawater. Northwestern Australia satisfied all of these criteria, with the additional benefits of a skilled labor pool and strong government support.
What is it about the Australian government that seems to make it friendly to the algae industry there?
The Australian government is very progressive in evaluating, promoting, and supporting innovative businesses with the potential to create new jobs and stimulate economic growth. At the same time, it also takes environmental stewardship seriously, so it is very interested in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.
Also, consider that Australia is currently experiencing an economic boom due to current mining activity, but this will not last forever. By investing in this new agricultural platform at this early stage, Western Australia, with its ideal climate, abundance of seawater, and availability of flat, arid land, is well positioned to become “the Saudi Arabia of algae production” over the next two decades.
This new agricultural platform is currently in its infancy, but has potential for tremendous growth, as the global population grows from seven to nine billion by the middle of this century, and limited energy, water, and food supplies are further stressed. Algae farming offers solutions to all of these problems, and Australia is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this new technology.
What part of Aurora Algae’s production still operates in California?
California is home to our corporate headquarters, as well as most of our research and development activities.
How is it coordinating between the two countries—what are the benefits, what are the difficulties?
There are obvious challenges and expenses related to travel and coordination between time zones, but this is a small consideration, given the scope of the opportunity. The algae industry represents a tremendous opportunity for the entire global population, as a sustainable, scalable source of food, fuel, and pharmaceuticals. We have always approached this as a global opportunity, so travel and coordination between time zones is just business as usual.
How would you describe your production operations in Australia?
Our pilot production facility in Western Australia is currently producing 12 to 15 metric tons of dried algal biomass per month, in six, 4,000 square meter (one-acre) production ponds.
What are the next milestones for the commercial expansion of the company?
Over the next year, we will be intensifying our R&D efforts, while simultaneously finalizing the design of our commercial plant. We plan to break ground on our commercial production facility, near the pilot facility, during the first half of 2014. This new facility will consist of approximately 100 hectares (250 acres) of ponds, with anticipated completion during the first half of 2015.
This production facility will be capable of producing up to 600 metric tons of dried algal biomass per month, and will provide the modular footprint for future expansion to 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of ponds.