For the first decade of its existence, AlgaEnergy conducted research—testing various technologies, different species of microalgae, and a range of applications.
The founders considered entering the energy sector, but soon realised that it would take many years to untap microalgae’s potential as a biofuel. So, they shifted their focus to an industry where they could have an enormous effect, and relatively quickly: agriculture.
AlgaEnergy won second prize in the special category focusing on blue and green economy at the European Investment Bank Institute’s Social Innovation Tournament 2022, the tournament that recognises entrepreneurs who are making a remarkable contribution to society and the environment.
A natural resource of fertiliser
The use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture degrades the soil, pollutes groundwater, and emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 265 times more noxious to the environment than CO2.
Using pesticides in agriculture can contaminate soil and water while proving deadly to birds and beneficial insects.
“We want microalgae to grow as fast as possible, to create a concentration of cells that would probably not take place in nature,” Carlos explains. Microalgae don’t need arable land to grow, only sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, but there is an art to cultivating them.
“It’s not like producing screws. These are living organisms, and when you change the conditions, they will change their behaviour. Even if you use the same species with the same technology and put it in a different place, the environmental conditions are different.”
As a pioneer in the field, AlgaEnergy has a big moat, and is the first B Corp in its sector. It uses a sustainable process to grow microalgae, inducing photosynthesis in an environment controlled for pH, temperature, and nutrient balance.
After working in a pilot plant for four years, the company built an industrial-scale facility in southern Spain, taking advantage of the region’s plentiful sunlight. It’s located adjacent to a combined-cycle power plant, whose chimney emissions provide the necessary CO2. Recycling keeps water consumption to a minimum.