transesterification with methanol to yield methyl esthers.
The glycerol co-products should be
captured as it is a valuable co-product.
This report identifies several key industry leaders within the algae biofuel industry. One factor
in identifying leaders in a particular field of research is by the size of a patent portfolio. In this
industry, the top leaders are BASF Plant Sciences, Solazyme, Inc., Martek Biosciences, Du Pont
and Aurora Biofuels Inc.
BASF, headquartered in Germany, is the largest chemical company in the world. BASF conducts
its business based on sustainable developments.
BASF structures its operations into six unique
business sectors, two of which include agricultural solutions and oil and gas. BASF recently
partnered with Monsanto, a leader in plant biotechnology to further research in the area of algae
Solazyme, Inc. began in 2003 as a company formed to harness the prolific oil-producing ability
Solazyme, a privately-owned company based in San Francisco, California, has
recently announced partnerships with both Chevron Technology Ventures and United States
Department of Energy to develop the commercialization of microalgal fuel technologies.
Martek Biosciences is a company based in Columbia, Maryland that focuses its research on
products derived from microalgae.
Martek has focused some attention in producing nutritional
supplements from cultivated microalgae that are then used in products such as infant formula.
However, it has several patents relevant to developing the natural oils found in microalgae.
Founded in 1802, DuPont is a chemical company based in Wilmington, Delaware. DuPont has a
wide range of products in its energy and utility business and within the oil and gas sector;
however, it recently has also made a significant effort to develop clean, sustainable fuel
Aurora Biofuels is a company that has headquarters in both Hayward, California and West Perth,
Aurora has worked to develop a salt water algae strain that is capable of growing in
open ponds with sea water instead of fresh water.
Recently, they have developed affiliations
with BIO, the world’s largest biotechnology organization.
BASF, http://www.basf.com/group/corporate/en/about-basf/index?mid=0 (last visited Apr. 24, 2011).
, http://www.solazyme.com/company-overview (last visited Apr. 24, 2011).
, http://www.martek.com/about.aspx (last visited Apr. 24, 2011).
visited Apr. 24, 2011).
., http://www.aurorainc.com/company/contact-aurora/ (last visited Apr. 24, 2011).
Upcoming Challenges to Overcome
Although algae biofuel production is a promising new field, there are several technical barriers
that must be overcome before microalgae become an economically viable option.
algae are incredibly diverse and almost 200,000 species of algae exist.
This makes finding an
ideal strain of algae difficult and time consuming.
After finding a suitable strain of algae, it is
then necessary to optimize the strain to compensate for the trade-off between energy devoted to
growing, and energy devoted to accumulating oils.
In addition, maintaining consistency while
growing each batch of algae biomass and developing low-energy methods of harvesting and
extraction are other important issues to consider.
One of the most important goals of microalgal biodiesel fuel production is to reduce the cost
during the production phase in order to lower the ultimate cost to a potential consumer.
Currently, algae biodiesel costs approximately $13.25 per gallon to produce, whereas petroleum
fuel sources are approximately $1.65 to $2.91 to produce.
A majority of the total production
cost, almost 70%-90%, is accrued during the Biomass Growth/Cultivation stage and the
Harvesting and Extraction stage.
Thus, researching genetic and metabolic engineering of algae
would have the greatest impact on algal biodiesel economics.
This report considers research
advances in photosynthetic efficiency, lipid biosynthesis, genetic transformation and oil
One idea behind improving photosynthetic efficiency is to engineer the strains to synthesize a
large amount of photoreceptor molecules.
This is done by engineering cyanobacteria to express
the enzymes pyruvate decarboxylase and alcohol dehydrogenase.
Another method of increasing the photosynthetic efficiency is to increase the cellular tolerance to
variety of stress factors, including High Light Stress.
One concept behind lipid biosynthesis is to establish strategies that increase the expression of
enzymes that are involved in the pathways of fatty acid synthesis.
Increasing the production
ADAKOVITS ET AL
note 17, at 16.
ADAKOVITS ET AL
Michael J. Haas et al.,
A Process Model to Estimate Biodiesel Prod. Costs
, 97 B
Biodiesel Prod. From Oleaginous Microorganisms
, 34 R
, supra note 49, at 2.
ADAKOVITS ET AL
note 15, at 496.
. at 489.
rate or quality of the lipids is one way to increase the oil production in microalgae, which in turn
will improve economic feasibility. Oleaginous algae accumulate large quantities of stored lipids
in response to stresses such as nitrogen limitations, high salinity, or unsuitable temperatures.
The availability of rapid large-scale sequencing technologies have sparked a new growth in
In addition, several microalgae genome sequences already exist, allowing
for easy genetic manipulation.
Several different transformation methods have been used to
transfer DNA into microalgae cells.
These methods include agitation in the presence of glass
beads, electroporation, and biolistic microparticle bombardment.
Oil Excretion Technologies
Perhaps the most costly processing occurs during the downstream steps of fuel production.
These steps include harvesting the microalgae and then extracting the fuel precursors from the
Several methods within the current technology allow one to concentrate the biomass
and then extract the fuel precursors by settling and flocculation; however, these methods are
slow and inefficient.
Other methods, such as centrifugation and filtration, are faster, but they
are much more expensive and energy intensive.
One important problem for any extraction
method is the fact that microalgal species have a tough outer cell wall that requires harsh lysis
conditions to penetrate it.
Another problem is producing enough microalgal oil necessary for
this method to realize economic benefits.
A possible solution to overcome this extraction problem would be to manipulate the biology of
algae cells so that the algae fuel secretes directly into the growth medium.
Various ways to
accomplish this concept have been found utilizing the manipulation of established lipid-secretion
pathways. These methods include secretion of triacylglycerol-containing, very-low-density
vesicles from hepatocytes, triacylglycerol-containing vesicles from mammary glands, and the
manipulation of ABC transporters.
Pyrolysis technologies are another method of extracting oils from microalgal cells. Initially
developed in 1986, this method relates to the decomposition of biomass under high temperatures
Inna Khozin-Goldberg & Zvi Cohen,
Unraveling Algal Lipid Metabolism: Recent Advances in Gene
, 93 B
91, 91 (2011).
ADAKOVITS ET AL
note 15, at 487.
. at 492.
note 1, at 43.
ADAKOVITS ET AL
, note 15, at 492.
and low oxygen levels.
This method is suitable for extracting oil from microalgae because of
the relatively low cost of the process as compared to the high quality of oil obtained.
Liquefaction is a method that attempts to solve the problem of high water content in microalgae
after the harvesting process. It requires a high level of energy to remove the high levels of
moisture in the algae; thus, liquefaction has been developed to produce biofuel directly without
first drying the microalgae.
These methods provide lower production costs; however, the manipulation of pathways required
to achieve the desired results is still unclear in some instances. In addition, the problem of oil
contamination after extraction limits many of the methods.
VI. Patent Search Methodology and Results
Patent Search Methodology
The ITTI team identified algal biodiesel technology as an ongoing research topic at University of
New Hampshire (“UNH”) Durham. Professor Cavicchi communicated with Dr. Ihab H. Farag, a
professor in the UNH biodiesel group, that ITTI would pursue this project as a potential point of
synergy with UNH’s biodiesel program. This is viewed as a complementary effort because ITTI
has published in the field.
The ITTI team, under the direction of Professor Jon Cavicchi and technical supervisor Dr.
Stanley Kowalski, began reviewing recent literature on the technology relating to genetic
transformations of algae for the production of biodiesel. The ITTI team commenced searching
with basic search terms such as alga*, and biodies*, then reviewed the results.
The ITTI team commenced an intense three-month iterative search and coding process.
Thomson Innovation was the primary patent searching platform, but the ITTI team also used
other tools, including Lexis Total Patent™, the USPTO website, Patent Lens, and websites such
The searches utilized keywords derived from the non-patent literature and the initial search
results to generate useful search strings. The ITTI team initially divided the search into two
groups: one group searched for patent records relevant to lipid biosynthesis while the other
searched for patent records relevant to photosynthesis. Searches used the United States Patent
Classifications, International Patent Classifications, and Derwent World Patent Classifications
that the ITTI team identified in previous searches and team meetings. The combination of
keywords and classifications in search strings was useful for parsing the technology into
compartments and allowing each team member to generate a different set of search results that
keywords alone could not provide. This approach generated a broad set of patents from which
keywords and classifications were used in subsequent rounds of searching. After each round of
note 1, at 43.
. at 44.
searching, the ITTI team met and identified the most important keywords and classifications for
use in subsequent search strings.
Because searches that included the specification and description fields were too broad, the ITTI
team searched the fields of title, abstract, and claims or, at times, only the claims field alone.
ITTI utilized Thomson Innovation, a patent search platform that integrates the best of the suite of
Thomson tools, Aureka®, Delphion® and MicroPatent®. Thomson Innovation is a single,
integrated solution that combines intellectual property, scientific literature, business data and
news with analytic, collaboration, and altering tools in a robust platform.
ITTI also utilized TotalPatent™, a Lexis Nexis platform, to search patents and patent
applications world-wide. TotalPatent™ provides several additional countries that are not
included in other platforms.
Also, TotalPatent™ offers useful tools such as semantic searches,
the ability to search for subsidiary companies and corporate structure, and analytics.
Gene Sequence Searching
The ITTI team additionally used Patent Lens, a free public resource initiative of Cambia, to
specifically search nucleotide sequences.
Patent Lens obtains patent and patent application
data through subscriptions with WIPO, USPTO, EPO, IP Australia and INPADOC. It updates
weekly and includes full-text of more than eight million patents and applications. It also
includes DNA, RNA and Protein Sequences extracted from United States patent documents.
This unique feature was useful to this project because nucleotide sequences could be copied into
the search engine. However, Patent Lens only searches United States patents and patent
applications for the sequences, and these sequences were last updated May 2, 2010. For more
information, visit http://www.patentlens.net/sequences/blast/blast.html.
Patent Lens uses NCBI’s Blast Software to search sequences that are specifically listed in US
Patents and published patent applications. ITTI obtained relevant gene sequences by searching
patents on the USPTO website. ITTI found sequences in the Image File Wrapper using the
USPTO’s Public Pair.
Other search techniques:
Using the Patent Lens website, ITTI accessed the Blast tool located on the patent
landscape menu and searched by inputting a genetic sequence into BLAST. A screen
shot of BLAST is shown in Figure 6 and Figure 7, below.
, http://www.patentlens.net/ (last visited Apr. 24, 2011).
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