Science & technology

Background

Oil substitutes can and are being found in the form of gas (LNG), coal seam methane and bio-fuels. Technology is also providing alternatives in terms of efficiency, discovery and extraction.  While substitutes can be found for short chain hydrocarbons a ready source of high value long chain hydrocarbons used in pharmaceuticals, personal care, cosmetics and chemical industries is less certain.

The world has considerable reserves of  ‘old’ hydrocarbons, but new reserves of oil are in remote, hostile, deep or environmentally sensitive areas. Further, much of the world’s oil is in geopolitical sensitive regions and/or held by sovereign states (Russia, Middle East, etc). Given the disruptive risk of the above, alternatives need to be found.

The resources being mobilized in finding an alternate to oil based energy are substantial with governments, universities, start up and major industrial enterprises investing heavily in finding alternatives. In reality as the world strives to seek alternatives to oil and coal based energy the answer will be in multiple solutions from alternative sources to improved energy efficiency. Not all these are without a downside but do provide alternative supply and or efficiency.

  • Sea transport could be converted to run on electricity or gas.
  • Coal fired power stations can be converted to gas or utilize coal gasification to reduce emissions.
  • Coal seam methane and deep drilling provide options for new sources but are costly and have potential risks to the environment (oil spills and water contamination from the fracking process).
  • On the demand side LED lighting dramatically reduces energy used to provide lighting. Motor vehicle engine efficiency continues to improve fuel efficiency. Buildings can be designed with smart energy systems.
  • Solar and Wind have potential in providing supplementary electricity to coal and nuclear base load power and to replace remote diesel power generation.
  • Biofuel energy, that is carbon neutral is being extracted from plants, animal or aquatic species but these compete with arable farming land or endanger marine ecosystems and present a food or energy dilemma if they were to be developed as a significant large scale alternative to oil derived hydrocarbons.

Growing land-based hydrocarbons also presents a challenge with their large water and nutrient demand.

WWCC is developing a new energy option that is algae based. Combined with the rapid developments in genetic engineering means algae based bio-energy represents a sustainable, credible, environmentally safe, carbon neutral alternative.

R&D

Working in dedicated research facilities at RMIT University in Melbourne WWCC has a research team of world class professionals to secure and exploit all the intellectual property pertaining to the biofuel genomics of algae and its application through the establishment of lab scale culture conditions and transgenic strains.

Based on over 25 years of work by French biologist Professor Pierre Metzger, strains of alga have been identified which yield high quality long chain hydrocarbons. In particular it has been widely recognized amongst biologists in this field that the alga Botryococcus Braunii produces a high quality pure hydrocarbon or more specifically Triterpenoids.

WWCC has been gifted the databank of algae and the considerable genetic material from Professor Metzger’s life time of research. Over the last three years research has been undertaken to successfully identify, isolate, extract and cross implant the gene from Botryococcus Brauni responsible for producing the triterpenoid hydrocarbon.

This work has resulted in the granting of a patent in the US and Australia with world wide patent approval pending. Further related patent applications are being sought.

Parallel to the developments in alternative energy is the revolutionary developments in Genetics. This is opening up opportunities in microbiology that even 5 years ago would have been costly and slow, if not impossible. The rapid advance in genetic engineering technology in terms of the speed with which DNA sequencing can be undertaken and rapidly falling costs means microbiology research and development is benefiting from a significant acceleration in terms of the time and cost to undertake any work. Specifically this opens up possibilities for WWCC to transplant its genes into multiple types of fast growing plant organisms, suitable for different growing environments.

This provides the key to producing hydrocarbons in commercial high volume quantities grown in a variety of mediums and conditions. Growing ‘fresh’ hydrocarbons not only adsorbs carbon and hence is a carbon sequestration option for industry, but can also grow in polluted water and  such as sewage, thereby remediating contaminated environs.

Production

WWCC plans to commission its own small scale production facility with the purpose of producing and extracting hydrocarbons (Triterpenoids) for specialist applications in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical markets and to demonstrate commercial viability of the processing method, utilizing WWCC’s unique genetic material.

Production plant options for growing algae based hydrocarbon are well established. Closed loop photo bioreactors are considered the best option and readily available. Further there is promise of significant efficiency gains from technological developments, further improving yields. Depending on the host used with the implanted gene the potential is also to use existing biological processing facilities used for making pharmaceuticals.

From a commercialisation strategy perspective it is planned that licensing the process as an ‘add on’ to existing industrial processes is the best and most feasible option for scaling up. It is also likely that the different industries will apply/adapt the process to suit their processes.

Further as the production scale required for high volume hydrocarbon would require substantial capital investments, commercial feasibility is best achieved when it is added onto existing industrial processes.

The processing of hydrocarbons can be through established oil refineries and processing facilities without need for special equipment. Importantly the yield from conventional oil of long chain hydrocarbon is a small fraction of the output from the cracking process but is also the most valuable hydrocarbon as it yields jet fuel, and provides the building block for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The hydrocarbon produced through the WWCC process is a very long chain C30 hydrocarbon and hence highly valuable for specialist industrial uses and applications.