This article is the third in our diversity series to highlight the importance of diverse public-private partnerships to advance algae research and development.
The success of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership depends on the diverse strengths and unique perspectives that each of its partners brings to the table. As a collective network of experts, ATP3 is addressing key technical challenges to advancing the commercialization of algae-based technologies. Bill Brandt, ATP3 Director of Business Development, further explains, “At ATP3, we are building a network to link innovation and science.”
What does this network look like? As Brandt describes it, “This network includes academics, entrepreneurs, companies, students and even the general public who are just interested in algae. Our network is based on engagement and inclusion of people who want to make a difference for the future of the food, water treatment, specialty products and fuels industries.”
ATP3 partners with industry in a number of capacities to include industry affiliates, business clients and both Commercial and Technical Advisory Boards. These interactions keep ATP3 research relevant; provide researchers and industry with access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities; and help translate research into real-world applications. As Brandt explains, “Our industrial partners are particularly important, as they are the ones who can help identify new opportunities at scale.” In return, industry benefits from belonging to the network in many ways, including being exposed to potential new technologies for licensing and adapting the use of its current technologies for new market territories.
ATP3 has a number of industry partners who serve diverse functions within the network, from supplying cutting edge technologies to serving as open testbed sites. These industry partners include Commercial Algae Management, Florida Algae, Cellana and Valicor Renewables, representing a wide range of expertise from the algae industry.
Commercial Algae Management is a full-process commercialization supplier for the algae industry. In its role with ATP3, CAM provides ancillary support with supply needs, from test ponds to instrumentation, to help establish uniform growth and measurement systems at the testbed sites. In return, Albert Vitale, Vice President of Operations at CAM, explains the benefits of being a member of the ATP3 network: “We have been provided unparalleled access to critical decision-makers and allowed opportunities to refine our products to better meet the needs of both researchers and commercial users based on the knowledge gained and experiences from our participation in the ATP3 program.”
As for the unique capabilities of the ATP3 network, Vitale comments, “This is one of the most progressive models we have seen where industry, commercial partners, research institutions and suppliers can come together in a comprehensive network that provides full support, including testbeds, laboratories and commercial products in one consortium. It creates a unique environment to advance new, innovative and potentially disruptive technologies in a complete support environment that can provide high-level analysis, testing and development.”
Florida Algae is another ATP3 industry partner who functions as both a research partner and part of the collaborative network of open testbed sites. Primarily, they have participated in the Unified Field Studies to test the outdoor cultivation and performance of algal strains across geographic diverse areas. As ATP3 moves toward creating a sustainable consortium model, testbed sites will continue to build partnerships with private industry that can benefit from access to the testbed facilities and resources. For example, Thomas Dempster, ATP3 Testbed Site Coordinator, has facilitated discussions between Florida Algae and a major biosciences company to use this testbed site for large-scale algae biomass production beginning in November 2015. Steven Schlosser, founder and CEO of Florida Algae, explains what he sees as the top benefit for industry to work with a public-private partnership: “It is being able to share solutions as they occur without the restrictions of corporate policy, which helps to expedite knowledge.”
The ATP3 testbed sites provide a unique opportunity for business clients from a range of technological industries to gain access to quality equipment and services to test novel concepts. One major client has been Diversified Technologies, Inc., which has partnered with the testbed at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University to test the feasibility of applying its technology to the microalgae market.
DTI is the designer of the first commercial-scale equipment for Pulsed Electric Field processing, which had been primarily used for in the food and wastewater industries. However, DTI recognized that this technology could be applicable to other markets (e.g., algal industry) where disruption of cells by PEF could improve the release and extraction of cell components (e.g., bio-oils). As Michael Kempkes, Vice President of Marketing at DTI, explains, “We are not an ‘algae company’—we build high voltage equipment for radars, particle accelerators, etc. PEF could be a large market for our systems if it is adopted in the algal industry. Our objective now is to help algae companies explore this technology for their specific applications, as easily and inexpensively as possible.”
Early work by DTI, in partnership with AzCATI, led to a patent for the use of PEF in algae applications and the creation of an automated, lab-based instrument for this purpose. Kempkes remarks, “After our initial SBIR work, we received over 100 inquiries from companies around the world on using PEF for their algal products, and we’re working with AzCATI to transition that interest into research projects. Getting the patent was a big step, as was installing the PEF system at AzCATI.” In addition, partnering with DTI enhances the testbed capabilities for ATP3 partners and customers who have access to the PEF instrumentation installed at AzCATI and now purchased for use at several other testbed sites.
AzCATI has facilitated DTI expanding its reach into the algae market by providing the infrastructure and technical expertise necessary to validate the use of the PEF technology for algae. Kempkes comments, “ATP3 allows a company to focus on their specific technologies and research goals, rather than setting up the basic facilities needed to get started, like the basics of growing algae and analyzing its characteristics. This startup time and cost can be daunting and would dissuade many organizations from even starting down this road. For an electronics company like DTI, which does not have biologists or wet labs, working with AzCATI under the ATP3 program has been ideal.”
ATP3 also receives valuable input and direction from the members of its Commercial and Technical Advisory Boards who are an integral part of connecting the program with the commercial ecosystem. These board members, who include leading industry experts, provide objective feedback on technologies, processes, experimental design, outcomes and commercial viability. As Brandt states, “In particular, ATP3 would like to thank its advisory board members who are advising ATP3 on sustainable models for support services as we all look to the future of the algae industry.” This future will include expanding this network of public-private partnerships to accelerate science toward profitable algal biofuels and bioproducts.
To learn more about industry collaborations with ATP3, please contact John McGowen (Director of Operations) at John.McGowen@asu.edu.