Monday, September 21, 2015

Innovation Boosts Texas Algae Technology Developer

By Michael Valenti
Senior Research Consultant
Technical Insights 
Frost & Sullivan

Today’s technology companies are growing by using their innovation skills to develop new technologies based on a common area of expertise that can be licensed by other entities. This provides needed capital for the innovator to continue adding to their technology portfolio by leveraging their core competencies. 

A case in point is Missing Link Technology, LLC, of Cypress, Texas. The Texas company specializes in developing and acquiring emerging processes in neutraceutical and biofuel applications. The common thread in these diverse areas is that they involve the continuous fermentation of algae. Missing Link's entire business model is based on licensing. The Texas company has a sister company that licenses its technologies to third parties.

Nutraueticals, or foods with medicinal value, are a booming business around the world. Some research indicates the global market for these products, which was $141.2 billion in 2011, could achieve $204.8 billion by 2017 with a Combined Annual Growth Rate of 6.3%. 

For example, Missing Link Technology has developed and patented its Alginator algal oil extraction technology. The Texas company designed the Alginator to use rapid non-equilibrium decompression in order to enhance the efficiency, and also lower energy consumed by traditional oil extraction from algae. The inventors achieved this by injecting pressurized gas into the cell, then lowering the pressure to break the algae into smaller particles.

This enables the device to continuously lyse, or cause cell destruction, emulsify, and de-agglomerate algae to produce smaller particle sizes. Then, nutraceutical manufacturers remove desired carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins from algal cells. A key design innovation on the Alginator is the exit nozzle. The company fashioned the exit nozzle to provide the optimal flow rate and shear rate in the minimum time period. 

The strength of biologically sourced fuel, or biofuels, has not been lost on the scientists at Missing Link Technology. The desire for domestically sourced fuel, far away from the turbulent Middle East, and less environmentally impactful fuels then petroleum based compounds, has spurred a global biofuel market of approximately 1.9 million barrels per day in 2011. This was a 16% rise over the 1.67 million daily barrels in 2009. Some research expects that figure to be 2.5 million barrels per day in 2020.

This is why Missing Link Technology also developed a patented two-stage reactor to continuously ferment algae to make biologically derived fuel, or biofuel.  A two-stage process results in reduced water content and an altered algae biomass.

The algal biomass is then converted to fuel by another Missing Link Technology patented process. This consists of a gasifier that transforms the hydrocarbons present in the algal biomass into synthetic gas, or syngas, composed of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and trace impurities. The reactor heats the syngas from 300 degrees Fahrenheit to 1,500 degrees F to produce a liquid and some solids.

Missing Link's process pre-heats the biomass, mixes it with the syngas, and then injects the mixture into a reactor. This vessel divides the process stream into gas, liquid, and solid state particles. The gaseous portion can be burned to produce electricity, like natural gas, or converted into a transportation fuel. The used solids can be recovered for further processing into transportation fuel. 
By focusing on improvements within growing new technology markets - nutriceuticals and biofuels - Missing Link is aiming its expertise at burgeoning opportunities. By licensing its technologies, the company is free to reinvest in the development of new innovations as market needs develop.

In sum, by creating innovative technologies, the company is able to license them to generate revenue. These funds enable the firm to invest in new scientific advances, enhancing the expertise of their personnel.

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