Pond Biofuels; carbon dioxide in, biofuel out
On any given day the CBC seems to think friending someone on Facebook or using snapchat represents technology. Every once in a while they do though lift their collective head out of the “tech” haze to explore technology.
There was a case in point last week when they provided coverage of Pond Biofuels. In one sentence, Pond is exploring using algae to consume a stream of CO2 and produce biofuel. A cement company was presented as an early adopter and location for further research. Cement production is known to be a large consumer of fuel and thus a large emitter of CO2. It all sounded promising, a system that attacks two problems. It uses a “waste” as input and supplies a fuel as output.
Questions started appearing as I thought about the Pond “system”. What does the energy balance look like? What is the capacity of a typical system? What mass or volume of algae would consume what volume of CO2 and produce what amount of fuel? Finally, is Pond is seeking any IP protection for aspects of their system.
Algae consumes CO2 during photosynthesis just like plants. This is an aspect of nature and is not patentable subject matter. This is fair enough. Now let’s look at another level. Is the process being optimized with respect to the CO2 or light consumption? Is the artificial supply of CO2 to the algae patentable subject matter? No pun intended, but there is likely more fertile ground around optimization. Is there tailoring of the ratio or relationship between CO2 and the amount of light? I think of this sort of technology and patents as being at the next level, if you will i.e. improvements in efficiency over a naturally occurring system. One could also envision use of heat from the CO2 stream to maintain an algae/system temperature that is beneficial for growth.
Is Pond actively applying for patents? The answer is yes, with a total of 11 published applications visible at the USPTO. Now it is time to see what they considered inventive in their system.