Viridos is a privately held biotechnology company harnessing the power of photosynthesis to create transformative solutions to mitigate climate change. Our unparalleled understanding of algal genetics and ability to translate innovation from lab to field underpins our initial deployment: a scalable platform to produce low-carbon intensity biofuels for aviation, commercial trucking, and maritime shipping. Building on a legacy of genomic firsts, our team of scientists and engineers are shaping new pathways toward a sustainable bioeconomy.
Founded in 2005, the company was a pioneer in synthetic biology. We transplanted the first genome, synthesized the first bacterial genome, and created the first synthetic cell. Our work generated more than 100 patents (issued and pending) and numerous spinoffs, including platforms for protein-based and mRNA-based therapeutics, bacteriophage engineering, cell engineering for organ transplantation, nutritional proteins and oils from algae, as well as the world’s first automated DNA printer. These achievements are evidence of the company’s best-in-class genomic expertise.
The California Advanced Algal Facility (CAAF) is our pilot facility. It was established in 2018 in California’s Imperial Desert to test and farm algae strains optimized for biofuel production. CAAF provides an outdoor, desert environment where we have grown strains developed in our labs and greenhouse to test strain robustness, conduct environmental monitoring, and optimize growing systems and agricultural processes. CAAF also provides a real-world testbed to ascertain algae strain productivity under harsh deployment conditions.
Yes, it does, but for now we focus on where we can have the biggest impact: decarbonizing liquid fuels like jet fuel and diesel. We need to give this our complete attention. The residual biomass after oil extraction that contains valuable protein and carbohydrates becomes another opportunity for us beyond the biofuel alone. Particularly as the technology scales, these co-products will become important as they could for example provide sustainable feed for aqua- and agriculture, become a sustainable feedstock for bio-based chemicals and plastics, be gasified, or be sequestered to further reduce carbon impact.
Viridos’ microalgae are farmed on non-arable land using saline water. After harvesting and dewatering, high quality vegetable oils (lipids) are extracted from the crop and refined to drop-in renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel using existing and proven biofuel refining technology. The residual biomass is further processed and can be used in a number of high volume or high value applications under development.
Viridos’ algal strains are grown in saltwater, minimizing the need for freshwater. Avoiding competition for valuable freshwater resources reinforces the sustainability of the algal biofuel production process. Our microalgae strains are optimized to live in waters ranging from brackish to twice ocean salinity. Our biofuel facility can also draw water and nutrients from brackish waters and those impaired by agricultural runoff. Biofuel facilities can be sited near an ocean and use freshwater only to balance water salinity.
Our microalgae strains are optimized to thrive in waters ranging from brackish to twice as saline than ocean water. Biofuel facilities based on our technology can draw ocean water and draw water and nutrients from brackish waters and those impaired by agricultural runoff. Algae farms can be sited near an ocean and use minimal amounts of freshwater to balance pond salinity.
Upon meeting our technology performance targets, we anticipate algae biofuels delivering strong profitability in the current market for heavy duty transportation fuel and decarbonization.
In the early 2000’s there was strong interest in algae as a potential energy source. Many major companies that invested in and pursued what we refer to as “algae 1.0” have indeed ceased work on developing algal biofuel. Since then, innovations in the field of genomics (DNA sequencing, gene synthesis, and gene editing to name a few) have given synthetic biology both a better understanding for cell metabolism as well as the ability to design for function. The energy market has also substantially changed in the last decade. Specifically, the value of decarbonizing the transportation sector is being recognized in economic terms. Increasingly, renewable and low carbon intensity fuels are financially rewarded in the market.
After 12 years of research in the lab and outdoor piloting, Viridos has now achieved levels of algae oil productivity for biofuel production never seen before and at a scale larger than any other program. We continue to work on increasing the yield-per-acre, agronomics of the crop, downstream processing, and system integration.
Viridos’ algal biofuel has the potential to deliver a 70%+ reduction in GHG emissions over the fossil fuels it displaces. Additionally, Viridos’ algal strains are grown in the desert using predominantly saltwater, thus minimizing the need for arable land and freshwater: an all-around sustainable solution.
Microalgae are excellent at converting CO2 and sunlight directly into biomass. Natural algae strains are already as productive as terrestrial biofuel crops. Through bioengineering, the combination of our proprietary genetic engineering and agronomics, we have already achieved a 7x+ improvement in oil productivity per unit of land from our lead algal strains in outdoor real-world setting. Our innovation pipeline underpins our confidence in further improvements to support large scale deployment. The oil extracted from our proprietary algae is easily refined into renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel.
Scalability is a key strength of our value proposition. Unmatched fuel yields per acre (resulting in better land utilization) and the use of saltwater and marginal (non-arable) land drives scalability. For context, a 35 x 35-mile desert site will be able to produce 500,000 bbl/day of algal biofuel (or 182 million bbl/year). This represents approximately 7% of the global demand for aviation fuel. It also equates to reducing CO2 emissions by more than 62m tons per year, the equivalent to removing more than 13,500,000 cars off the road every year. With multiple deployment partners and a robust algae biofuel ecosystem, meeting global demand will become viable.
Furthermore, we project that upon reaching target performance, the fully loaded cost to produce a gallon of renewable diesel or sustainable aviation fuel using Viridos’ microalgal technology will make “our” fuel among the most cost competitive options to decarbonize heavy duty transportation.
Producing green hydrogen is still very costly due to the large amounts of green energy to produce it. Even if available, the infrastructure adjustments needed from production to distribution to end use are enormous and will take a lot of time to deal with compressed hydrogen, supercooled liquid hydrogen, or hydrogen hydrides. Sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel made from algae are drop-in fuels and work with existing infrastructure. The transition to a hydrogen economy will not be fast and will require massive switching costs, algae drop-in biofuels can become a reality in the next few years.
Since our algae are engineered to primarily consist of oil, the majority of the biomass produced goes to the product. Non-engineered wild type algae would have to generate multiples of biomass that would lead to wasting of substantial resources like fertilizers. Based on our process-engineering calculations, an output of 1,000,000 bbl./day of algal jet fuel, representing 14% of the current demand for jet fuel, would not impact global raw material supplies. It would use well under 1% of global annual nitrogen (urea) production and phosphorus (phosphate) production.
After extracting oil from the microalgae, the leftover biomass is primarily protein and carbohydrate that can be turned into valuable co-products, such as animal feed and additional energy products. The refining of algal oil is highly selective towards diesel/jet fuel. Small quantities of naphtha and fuel gas (mainly propane) are produced and can be also monetized. The conversion of sunlight and CO2 into algal biomass generates very limited waste streams. We anticipate a discharge of purified and treated water/brine necessary to maintain salinity levels. Given the controlled, close loop nature of the water cycle, the algae farming operation will not generate substantial nutrient run-offs, as is the case for terrestrial crops.
Our work has led to the development of a technology set that delivers an “Energy Return per Energy Invested” ratio of approx. 2.5x. That means that every unit of energy “invested” in the conversion of sunlight and CO2 to algal biofuels yields 2.5 units of energy as biofuel. Furthermore, we obtain an “Energy Return per Fossil Energy Invested” ratio of approx. 5x. This metric correlates well with the carbon intensity score (i.e., the carbon footprint and GHG reduction potential) of the fuel. Increasing the share of renewable energy used in the conversion can further increase the Energy Return per Fossil Energy Invested.
With the current technology set, our algal biofuel delivers approximately a 70% reduction in GHG emissions over the fossil fuels it displaces. And increasing the share of renewable energy used in the conversion can lower the carbon footprint of Viridos algal biofuels even further.
Not surprisingly, given the very large carbon footprint of heavy-duty transportation, the challenges inherent in decarbonizing this sector and the economic prize for the winners, a number of technologies are being actively promoted. These include e-fuels, H2, ethanol to jet, thermochemical conversions of traditional biomass to liquids, and more. We believe that algae biofuels compare favorably to these technologies, in terms of scalability, technology readiness, carbon benefits and cost competitiveness.
We also believe that the energy transition demands more than one technology and that there is ample room and need for multiple approaches. We welcome new technologies that in some cases may even be synergistic with what we are undertaking. For example, direct air capture could be a complementary technology allowing Viridos algae farms to be fed with CO2 captured directly from the air in situations where CO2 sequestration is not readily viable.