Algae producer Sunrise to receive R&D grant

By Ryan C. Christiansen | September 16, 2008
Web exclusive posted Oct. 13, 2008 at 5:12 p.m. CST

Sunrise Ridge Algae Inc. of Houston has been awarded $250,000 from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to continue the research and development as well as the commercialization of its wastewater algae production technology to produce feedstock for biodiesel and other applications.

According to President and Chief Executive Officer of Sunrise Ridge Algae Norman Whitton, since 2005 the company has been working with Dr. Jerry Brand, a researcher in the section of molecular cell and development biology at the University of Texas in Austin and the director of the UTEX Culture Collection of Algae, as well as Dr. Kerry Kinney, a researcher in the environmental and water resources engineering department at UT-Austin. The researchers have been working to identify high oil-yielding species of and growth protocols for algae, as well as genetic engineering targets and lower-cost methods for dewatering algae. Whitton said the company has applied for several patents.

Sunrise Ridge Algae has maintained a research facility and pilot-scale algae test farm at the wastewater treatment facility at the city of Austin's Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant since 2007.

"We have had good success in our development so far, but more work is needed," Whitton said. The new funds will help the company to expand the pilot-scale farm and build additional product separation test facilities, as well as continue optimizing algae growth protocols and greenhouse designs, he added. "We also intend to assess high-protein algae products as a potential animal food," Whitton said.

Sunrise Ridge Algae's overall objective is to fine-tune its processes to achieve specific cost and yield targets, Whitton said. "Once those targets are achieved," he said, "we expect to design and propose a larger test facility near our current operation, on the order of 30 acres in size." Commercialization data from the pilot-scale facility will be used to seek additional investment for the larger facility, Whitton said. The company anticipates that the larger facility could be constructed in late 2009 or early 2010.

Whitton's previous experience in the petroleum and chemical industry includes positions at ConocoPhillips Co. and E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., as well as the Arthur D. Little management consultancy, where he led the energy industry practice in Asia, according to his company's Web site. Whitton has also helped to develop startups in bitumen refining, oil and gas production, and palm oil-based biodiesel in Malaysia.
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