Late this February Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist, along with Israel Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, hosted a competition to honor Israel’s leading cleantech start-ups. Among the 12 competition finalists, was UniVerve, an Israeli biofuel company that specializes in using microalgae to create oil.
UniVerve has gained international recognition for its microalgae technology, including at an apperance this March at the World Biofuels Markets, which can succesfully produce bio-oil from third generation biomass. If any waste biomass is left from the refining process, UniVerve sells it to be used as animal or fish feed.
Traditional bio-oil has been made from first generation feedstock, such as corn and soybeans, and even second generation fuel sources, such as Castor and Jatropha, but both sources have major problems when mass produced for oil, UniVerve claims.
Unlike those biomass sources, microalgae does not compete with the food market in terms of crops or vegetable oil, does not compete with agricultural land because algae can be grown innon-fertile land and in salty or brackish water, it is uniquely able to produce bio-diesel and jet-fuel alike, and also has a higher oil output level than first and second generation fuel sources.
For desert regions like Israel, microalgae can also play the very important role of cleaning contaminated water such as grey water and even sewage water, readying it for recycling an reuse for agriculture.
But many in the cleantech business think algae-based biofuels are years from being mass-produced. According to a study released in 2010 by the Energy Biosceience Institute (EBI) at UC Berkeley, “100 companies in the United States and abroad are now working to produce algal biomass and oil for transportation fuels,” but, “most are small and none has yet operated a pilot plant with multiple acres of algae production systems.”
Founded in 2009, with its official Israel debut at Israel’s WATEC 2011, a renewable energy and water technology conferenc, hosted last November, UniVerve has ambitions to take a central role in, what the company says will be, a $100 billion global biofuel industry by 2018. The goal: developing a “biological, renewable oil well,” the company wrote in a statement.