Giving algae a second shot

NO matter how many companies have tried and failed, Ohad Zuckerman is giving algae one last chance.

Algae pond (photo credit: Courtesy)
Algae pond
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The idea of growing algae for the production of biofuel has been around for many years; many companies around the globe have tried to make it work, but so far very few have succeeded. This, however, has not deterred Ohad Zuckerman and Raanan Herzog from founding UniVerve Biofuels (, of which Zuckerman is the CEO and Herzog the CTO.
Zuckerman tells The Jerusalem Report that what sets UniVerve apart from other companies that have tried to make biofuel out of algae in the past is their “patented growing and harvesting system, which enables us to produce micro-algae biomass with very low energy consumption and with a high yield per square meter.”
“When you are producing energy, you want to use less energy in the production and we have succeeded in inventing a growing and harvesting system that enables us to do that,” he adds. The centerpiece of UniVerve’s business idea is the unique design of the ponds in which the algae are grown.
The company calls its system the HAVP – Hanging Adjustable V-shaped Pond.
The benefits of the V-shape of the pond, according to UniVerve, are greater algal biomass yields from enhanced exposure to light and CO2. And the deeper ponds need less land, as compared to conventional open-pond systems. “The ponds in the picture are each 2.5 cubic meters, but we have already moved to 5 cubic meters, and our goal is to reach 100 cubic meters,” Zuckerman says.
One of the main advantages of the triangular shape is that it enables harvesting by using a combination of flocculation – a chemical process whereby the algae adhere together in clusters – and gravitation. So the soon to be biomass can simply be extracted from the pond using a minimal amount of energy.
Zuckerman says that they have found it very hard to raise capital, which is currently halting company growth. So far the founders are the main backers, with a number of smaller investors.
“It’s not so easy to get capital for clean-tech, especially in Israel, which is very backwards in clean-tech investment and regulation; the country that really needs most clean-tech is lagging behind Europe and the United States,” Zuckerman says.
He estimates that it will take about two years until the company is up and running, and that in the meantime they are in discussions with various organizations, both in Israel and abroad.
But, Zuckerman adds, there are a number of issues that they still need to address, such as finding a location with a clean water source, and plowing through all the regulatory and environmental permits.
Karin Kloosterman, editor of the environmental website GreenProphet.
com, told The Report that UniVerve seems to be in a position where they will grow by learning from the mistakes of the pioneers – and ultimately the failed business investments of growing too quickly – that came before them.
The biomass produced from UniVerve’s algae includes oil suitable for biodiesel and aviation fuels, a biomass rich in proteins and carbohydrates that can be used in the feed and food industries, and, depending on the type of algae grown, as high-value compounds for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.