We’ve been following the Aurora Algae company’s progress in Australia for a couple of years, so imagine our surprise when all of a sudden the company popped up deep in the heart of oil country. Earlier this spring Aurora Algae announced that it was planning to convert a former shrimp farm in South Texas to a commercial algae farm, and now it looks like all systems are go.
For an in-depth look at why Aurora ditched Australia for Texas, our friends over at Biofuels Digest have just published an interview with the Aurora Algae management team that indicates why Texas could have a huge advantage over Australia (one hint: labor costs), and we have an idea of our own.
Oil Country, Ideal For Algae Farm
When Aurora announced its plans for an algae farm in Texas, CEO Greg Bafalis was careful to note up front that the company has been testing its proprietary cultivation system all over the world, including several other US locations, so the company clearly has its sights on a distributed, global market.
However, the announcement also made clear that the South Texas site, in Rio Hondo, is coming out ahead. According to Bafalis, initial tests have been “meeting and surpassing our growth rate expectations” for the location.
As for the location, it’s an ideal fit for Aurora’s process. Here’s Bafalis again:
Our algae grow best in salt water, in warm climates without too much rainfall. From our initial testing, South Texas looks like a great fit for our requirements. Early results are extremely encouraging, and we are excited by the possibility of building our first commercial-scale operation on American soil.
Advanced Algae Farm Made In The USA
That brings up one of our ideas about the attraction of the US market. With all the focus on “energy independence,” domestically (and sustainably) sourced biofuel is a killer app, and if the Rio Hondo algae farm is a success, Aurora will get a twofer.
That’s because the company and its proprietary algae are a made-in-the-USA product, both coming out of algae R&D research at the University of California, Berkeley. Under its previous iteration as Algae BioFuel, in 2006 the company won a First Prize and a People’s Choice Award at the 2006 annual business plan competition, at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.
Algae Competition Heats Up In Texas
More to the point, we’re thinking that the same factors attracting Aurora to Texas are also on the radar of other up-and-coming algae companies, so this could be the beginning of an algae development rush in the heart of oil country.
The price of land, which is another factor that eased Aurora out of its attachment to Australia, could also be at play. If there is to be a green “gold” rush in Texas, getting in on the ground floor will give you a better chance of mopping up suitable sites at a lower cost.
As for whether algae could become a significant energy source in a state best known as the epicenter of the US oil and gas industry, we’re guessing that could happen sooner rather than later.
That’s especially so if you look at the way the Texas wind industry has raced ahead, in tandem with related projects like the CREZ transmission line and utility scale wind energy storage.
The signs are already in place that Texas is poised to become a leading force in the US algae farm sector. Texas A&M has already emerged as a hotbed of advanced algae research. A&M was also tapped by the Obama Administration several years ago to join a national algae research partnership aimed at developing optimal strains of algae for different regions of the US.
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