Company hopes to turn green algae into gold9/13/2012
The wealth of green algae lapping up on the shores of Nova Scotia spells a wealth of opportunity for a small Nova Scotia startup with lofty dreams.
Founded two years ago by Dalhousie University graduate Mather Carscallen, SABRTech works to convert lab-grown and harvested microalgae into biofuel for the aviation industry.
“The production of microalgae for use in aviation biofuels has been our main focus because not only is the aviation industry a monstrous industry, but they’re interested as well,” Carscallen said Wednesday. “They’re showing support and they’re sitting there waiting on essentially someone who can produce enough algae for fuel for them.”
Aviation industry stakeholders have already taken note, and Carscallen said similar technology is already being employed in some jet fuel powering American military aircraft.
The 26-year-old scientist, entrepreneur and current computational ecology PhD student was employed as an algal cultivation technician at National Research Council Canada for nearly four years before he left his post to chase his dream of creating algae-based bioproducts.
Two years in, the tiny startup now employs three full-time staff (including Carscallen), two part-time students and has plans of to hire additional undergraduates in the coming months.
Although aviation biofuel is the focus, the beauty of algae, Carscallen said, is that once its oils are extracted, forms of the byproduct can be used in everything from animal feed and human nutrition to fertilizers.
The company’s commitment to finding an alternative to traditional fuel has recently garnered attention from high-level investors and has the company on a fast-paced plan to commercialize and sell its microalgae products to buyers in the aviation industry in the next 18 months.
“I think it goes beyond changing the industry; think of countries, if they can produce enough biomass like algae that they don’t have to depend on foreign fuels, then that’s a huge step to becoming independent, especially in the energy world,” Carscallen said.
The company got a well-timed cash infusion in April after winning the Nova Scotia Clean Teach Open, an international competition hosted by Innovacorp designed to fund and mentor clean technology startups.
The $100,000 cash prize and $200,000 seed investment, mentoring and business development services have allowed the SABRETech team to focus on prototype development and start early work on marketing the technology worldwide.
Tapping into local financing and mentoring opportunities is an important facet of the company’s plans for rapid growth, Carscallen said.
SABRETech was named one of seven finalists competing in the annual BioInnovation Challenge, which is held in concert with the BioPort Atlantic 2012 conference in Halifax at month’s end.
The challenge is hosted by local life sciences association, BioNova, an advocate organization that works to promote the industry and connect entrepreneurs and researchers within the region and worldwide.
The winning entry nets $10,000 in cash and a support services package, including legal and marketing guidance, worth more than $30,000.
“There’s so much room to grow in Nova Scotia and Halifax; I’ve just been blown away by the number of people opening doors for us,” Carscallen said.
“I think as long as we stay on top of securing funding for the growth of our company, continue establishing partnerships and collaborations, then we’re on the path to our 18-month goal.”
Six other Nova Scotia companies, including Dartmouth Medical Research Inc., DeCell Technologies Inc., Coccicorp, Densitas, Mindful Scientific and Performance Genomics are in the running for the challenge crown.
(The Chronicle Herald)