Biotechnology / Environment / Startups / Universities

Oil from algae: Manta Biofuel wants to change the source of crude

The startup recently received federal funding to keep commercializing the technology. Founder Ryan Powell explains the vision.

This algae could provide energy. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
In the longterm, Manta Biofuel wants any water where algae grows to be a source for crude oil. To start, the company has manmade ponds in Thurmont, Md.

“We have about 15 acres of production capacity, which is sufficient for pilot-scale production,” said Ryan Powell, who invented the conversion process while working on his Ph.D. at Baltimore’s Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET).
With a licensing deal for the technology in place from University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the startup is working on commercial development of technology for harvesting oil from algae. The system includes growing algae that is then skimmed using solar-powered harvesters. The conversion is completed through a process that exposes the algae to high pressure and temperatures, known as hydrothermal liquefaction.

Ryan Poweel of Manta Biofuel. (Courtesy photo)

Ryan Poweel of Manta Biofuel. (Courtesy photo)

As commercial development continues, the nine-person company moved into offices in IMET’s recently opened Harbor Launch incubator. Manta also recently received $1 million through a Phase II Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s on top of $100,000 from TEDCO’s Technology Commercialization Fund, and $150,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund over the last year.
They’re working on a big solution. Harvesting algae from a body of water like the Chesapeake Bay not only creates green energy, but could help remove algae blooms that block sunlight and choke oxygen to marine life.
“The longterm goal is to sell our oil as a direct replacement for fossil crude oil,” said Powell. “However, entering that market takes time to tune the oil to the refinery’s needs and significant scale.”
But as is the case with many startups, Manta is starting with a more narrow market.
“In the short term we will be selling our oil for boiler heating as a drop-in replacement for No. 6 fuel oil,” Powell said.
The new funding will help build prototypes, as well as support current team members and contract engineers, Powell said.

Companies: Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) / TEDCO / Department of Energy

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