They call it the “valley of death”: the period of time between a startup’s initial funding and when it starts bringing in sustainable revenue. And the so-called clean tech scientists and business people looking to help the world lessen its dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable electricity sources know the topography of that valley well.
The first wave of inspiration for startups that research, develop and implement algae biofuels has crested. Now, local centers like the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, alongside companies like Sapphire Energy, Cellana and Synthetic Genomics, are plugging away at the research that would allow them to get from proving that algae can be turned into fuel for cars, airplanes and ships – which they’ve done – to consistently producing enough fuel for the technology to become a viable replacement for traditional fuel.
There are a few dozen algae biofuels companies in San Diego.
“San Diego is the algae Mecca,” said Martin Sabarsky, CEO of local biofuels company Cellana, at a clean tech symposium Tuesday. The company just signed a big deal with a Finnish oil company, which promised to buy tens of millions of dollars’ worth of the biofuel if Cellana can produce enough in the coming years.
That “if” looms large.