Job Creation in the Algae Industry

by Mark Edwards

Political, social and business leaders agree on relatively little but they are aligned in promoting job creation. President Obama holds high profile meetings with industry leaders such as Apple, Google, and Facebook, seeking their advice on job creation. Ironically, the high-tech sector tends to create wealth with relatively few US jobs. Apple’s US employment is under 30,000 jobs while they have outsourced over one million jobs to China and India. Congressional leaders in both the House and Senate position their budgets and bills in terms of how the legislation promotes job creation. America needs new industries where jobs cannot be outsourced.

The algae industry may offer the fastest growth area for job creation. While many of the algae industry business models are high technology, most engage a substantial number of employees. These new green collar jobs in the algae industry run the business gamut from operations, manufacturing, marketing, supply chain, quality assurance, research and development, and sustainable systems.

Algae industry jobs will employ large numbers of people trained in phycology, the study of algae. In addition, algae producers are recruiting people trained in biotechnology, bioengineering, biophysics, sustainability, nutrition, computer information systems, business and supply chain. Producers will also need legions of mangers, scientists, engineers, technicians and operators.

New industries

Algae will drive new green industries that will address social, environmental and economic challenges such as sequestration of greenhouse gases, cleanup of polluted water and recovery of precious fossil resources such as phosphorus. Some algae producers are sequestering CO2 from power, cement and manufacturing plants by flueing the exhaust plume through a cultivated algae production system, (CAPS). Since every ton of algae sequesters 1.8 tons of CO2, these producers have a competitive advantage with a cheap, surplus source of carbon to feed their algae.

Companies using algae for water remediation have a competitive advantage in low-cost nutrients derived from the wastewater. Today, most wastewater remediation requires considerable fossil energy and chemicals to remove wastes. Operators typically burn or bury recovered waste and sludge because those actions are cheaper than transporting the residue to a landfill.

In the near future, farm, municipal and industrial waste treatment will use non-fossil solutions such as algae and other microorganisms to clean water. Algae water remediation technologies offer a lower cost and lower carbon footprint for water remediation. Wastewater remediation with algae produces substantial amounts of biomass useful for feed, fertilizer, biofuels and other coproducts. As fossil resources such as phosphorus fertilizer become scarce and expensive, algae will play a major role in recovering and recycling valuable natural resources.

Algae production systems will scale to fit the input stream for CO2 or other nutrients. A power plant sequestration operation may have a footprint of 100 acres and employ 30 people. A wastewater treatment facility may employ a dozen people for the algae nutrient recovery. While these algae projects individually employ a relatively few people, every city and community will need multiple algae production facilities for waste stream remediation and recovery.

Jobs local to consumers

New green collar jobs targeted for cleaning air, water and soils are anchored locally and cannot be outsourced. The services they provide are attached to each community, which insures local employment. Algae can decentralize food, energy, feed, fertilizer and other industries that are currently concentrated in specific geographies. The algae industry offers a wide variety of additional jobs that benefit local employment.

Figure 1: Algae Technicians

Algae food producers such as GreenWater Global can cultivate crops local to consumers, in or near urban population centers. Foods may use algae directly, where suppliers process the biomass into high nutrient, low fat flour that make breads, chips, cakes or algae tofu, “alfu.” Algae nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants may enhance nutrient density in conventional foods, including synthetic meats. Low fat algae oils may enhance the taste, texture and nutritional profile for chocolate as well as other desirable snacks and desserts. Feed producers may cultivate algae and “grow and flow” the culture to fin or shellfish, or feed dairy or meat animals. Other growers may use smartcultures (Sustainable MicroAlgae Regenerative Technologies) to recover a farm’s nutrients from the waste stream and recycle them back to the field in irrigation water or by sprayer.

Algae companies that produce food near cities enjoy a significant competitive advantage over conventional industrial foods that are fossil dependent. Algae companies that produce food and other forms of energy such as biofuels are able to use abundant, non-fossil resources that are surplus and plentiful and will not run out—sunshine, CO2 and wastewater. Local food production enables producers to grow carbon neutral foods while eliminating 90% of the transportation cost. Transportation and the total supply chain, including spoilage waste, often represent over 50% of the food cost.

Algae biofuel companies can similarly produce liquid transportation fuels local to consumers, saving significant transportation costs. Algae biofuels produce a fraction of the ecological footprint associated with fossil fuels. Biofuel production typically requires higher levels of staffing because the operations are larger, creating more green collar jobs at all salary levels.

New industries

Algae producers will build new industries in health, cosmetics, medicine and advanced compounds. Producers announce new algae-based health foods weekly with higher nutrient densities, stronger nutritional profiles and more vitamins, trace elements, and antioxidants. Most existing cosmetics include algae components. The next generation of cosmetics will incorporate algae cultivated to produce specific compounds that improve skin moisture, moderate wrinkles and regenerate skin.

Figure 2: Algae Calcium and Chlorella

Scientists have reported various algae species slow or eliminate over 30 forms of cancer. Other algae compounds improve vision, enhance circulation, improved digestion and speed the healing of cuts, burns and bruises. Algae nutrients hold promise to solutions for obesity and diabetes. Algae compounds are being screened for applications in brain development and moderation of brain diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Several companies are designing their CAPS to produce a wide variety of advanced compounds. As scientists discover new algae compounds that provide health benefits, these firms will have the flexibility to morph their CAPS to produce target advanced compounds.

The next generation of medicines and pharmaceuticals, individualized medicine, will be based on unique DNA for individuals. Algae offer the only practical solution for fast, low cost production of advanced medical compounds. The market for individualized medicines will expand rapidly with advances in DNA research and medical practice. Individualized medicines based on algae compounds will provide large numbers of excellent jobs.

Algae industry path forward

New technologies in food, biofuels, pollution solutions, health and medicines position the algae industry for rapid job growth. In most cases, the new jobs will be anchored locally, which eliminates the threat of outsourcing. Algae industry expansion will occur quickly as successful producers develop effective cultivation, harvest and processing methods. Increasing demand for sustainable and affordable food, energy, pollution solutions and medicines assure the sustainability of these new green collar jobs.