Cleantech Open Ideas Competition winner already working to expand company
Jan 15, 2010
After watching pitch videos from seven finalists, selected from an initial pool of more than 1,000 submissions, audience members at the Cleantech Open Awards Gala in California grabbed their mobile phones and voted. The winner, by a large margin, was Replenish Energy from Puerto Rico—a microalgae fuel program that reduces the island’s dependence on imported oil for power generation.
As one of the Official Activities of Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2009, the Global Cleantech Open Ideas Competition combed the globe to find the next “big ideas” in clean technology. Startups from around the world competed for a prize worth $100,000 in startup services, with entries received from Brazil, China, Denmark, Israel, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S. Finalists met in Silicon Valley during the Week for a final round of competition.
Replenish Energy’s business plan involves mass producing fuel using micro-algae and an innovative hybrid open-pond system. As the world’s most efficient renewable energy source today, micro-algae can deliver 48,000 kilowatts of electricity per million dollars of capital invested. This compares to 470kW for solar panels and 1,300kW for wind turbines.
The company was founded by John Chapin, a fisheries engineer scholar and expert, and Jorge Gaskins, who founded an organic seafood company and has extensive background working with organic soy beans.
Gaskins is optimistic about the market potential of microalgae.
“It’s an emerging industry,” he said. “The culture of microalgae in the world is still measured in thousands of acres, as opposed to millions of acres for grains, but it’s come along a great deal. It’s been well known for some time, but it just seems to be one of the things that every time we gear up to do serious research with microalgae the price of oil goes down, or the U.S. priority seems to be so focused on other things (like ethanol) and microalgae gets pushed down.”
Large corporations like Exxon, Pacific Power and Light, Chevron and BP have all made recent investments in the technology. However, Gaskins has a slightly different objective to his research and development.
“We’re true to our roots, and our roots are in agriculture,” Gaskins said. “We don’t believe in genetically-modified algae as being a solution. So, we divert from the larger, better-financed efforts that Bill Gates and Chevron and others have invested in, because we think the secret lies in a better culture process, as well as a lower-energy requirement extraction process.”
And Gaskins said Replenish Energy has developed the technology to give them a market advantage—able to produce an average of 10,000 gallons of oil per pond acre, per year, with a cost around $0.05 to $0.10 per gallon. About 85 percent of the oil extracted can be used by consumers for everything from fuel oil, to human consumption.
The technology is also highly exportable, although algae production is more robust in sunnier, warmer climates.
Replenish Energy is already working with Cleantech Open and their network of resources to develop the company even further.
“We’ll wait and see what the reaction is,” Gaskins said. “This is an ambitious start-up. We’ve been making every attempt possible to not be undercapitalized.”
Aside from CTO, Replenish Energy was also selected as a top 10 finalist in The Economist’s “Innovative Solutions in the Energy Sector” competition, which included an opportunity to present their idea at the 2009 Carbon Economy Summit in Washington, D.C., in November 2009.