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Last Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a prize of USD 100 million for the best carbon dioxide sequestration technology. If you can do it, you can do it! Musk is of course doubly right: we need to radically reduce CO2 and the key to this is new technology.

We have a hot candidate: Photosynthesis, or more precisely a company that harnesses the power of photosynthesis on an industrial scale. We are talking about the Canadian start-up Pond Technologies Inc. (TSXV: POND, FRA: 4O0). In more than ten years of work (yes, even start-ups can get on in years!), Pond has developed a technologically leading platform for the cultivation of microalgae. Pond grows microalgae in closed tanks under fully controlled conditions. The CO2 content is a hundred times that of air, 5 percent instead of 0.04%. This causes the algae to grow even faster than in nature. The important thing is that Pond's technology is scalable. Pond can run 1000 litre tanks or 20 tanks of 50,000 litres each. The principle is the same: Algae "eat" CO2 and turn it into biomass. As a rule of thumb, two tonnes of CO2 from burning gas or coal, for example, yields about one tonne of algae. The microalgae are becoming increasingly sought after as a lifestyle food, but also as high-quality animal feed.

Abbildung 1

Figure 1: Pond provides a platform technology to grow microalgae extremely efficient and at scale. The biggest energy input is light. Therefore ideally Pond’s technology is ideally suited to be combined with renewable energy production notably biogas reactors.

Algae industry suffers from a bad image

The problem for Pond and for the entire algae industry is that even green investors are now shutting down quickly when it comes to algae. You heard that ten years ago, they say. The list of failed experiments is indeed long. Biofuel from algae vs. fossil raw materials was the founding programme of many companies at the time. Hardly any of them survived. How could they? The task is like squaring the circle. How is a young technology supposed to compete with the world's biggest commodity right off the bat? All the more so if the true costs of fossil fuels are not included, which is only gradually happening with the introduction of CO2 prices. Pond seems to have finally found the key to solving this dilemma. The magic word is: Bio-Pharma. Microalgae act as living microfactories for the production of high-quality medical proteins.

The fantastic thing about technological progress is that surprising ways are always found that no one had thought of before. This has also been the case at Pond Technologies. It was the CRISP/Cas9 gene scissors that made the genetic programming of microalgae possible. It looks like POND could make a breakthrough with the production of human proteins based on microalgae - not only technologically, but especially economically, because Pond Technologies forms an integral part of a larger algae-based bio-economy (see Figure 2).

Abbildung 2

Figure 2: Bio-pharma could be the springboard to kick-start an entire algae-based bioeconomy. The number of applications is countless and the potential is huge. What has held this new economy back so far has been the low productivity of industrial algae growth and low commodity prices.

The logic of this algae-based bio-economy works in stages. At the top are commodities in huge quantities with correspondingly low prices. At the bottom, i.e. at the beginning of the ladder, are the small but high-margin products that are needed for an algae-based bio-economy to get off the ground. Companies have to earn money, after all. That is not possible today in the distorted competition with fossil commodities. With bio-pharma, on the other hand, things look completely different. There, it is not a question of tonnes, but of microgrammes of certain proteins. Such quantities are child's play for Pond. That is why Pond is currently systematically preparing its entry into the bio-pharma sector. To this end, the company founded a new biotech department at the end of last year.

It is a long way from biodiesel to the synthesis of medical proteins. But this is precisely the path that Pond has taken. The company has recently been successfully using its platform to produce human antibodies. The principle is already known from bacteria and yeast fungi. Microalgae do not need sugar to grow, but light. Initial tests indicate that they could have advantages over yeasts and bacteria, especially in terms of copy fidelity. Compared to mammalian cells, which are mainly used in the field of bio-pharmaceuticals today, microalgae are characterized by their extremely fast reproduction. Theoretically, large quantities of certain proteins could therefore also be produced quickly, but development is certainly only at the beginning.

There is certainly still a lot of research to be done in this direction. Nevertheless, it is already becoming apparent that the topic of bio-pharma could become the long-sought door opener for an algae-based bio-economy. We therefore recommend following the news from Pond Technologies closely. If you want to learn more about the company, we recommend the (unfortunately not very well done) website Technology - Pond Tech or the current company presentation Unleishing the power of Photosynthesis for a micro-algae based bio-economy ( And should Musk award the company his CO2 prize, the world will certainly hear about it.

We had already reported on the company on last autumn. The link to our introduction can be found here or in the company profile of POND 

This text is a translation, only. Only the original German text is the official and authorized version.


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