Algae – bad.
That seems to be the prevailing sentiment these days, especially after last month’s announcement that Grand Lake St. Marys had been declared a disaster area, clearing the way for federal assistance to flow to lakeside businesses devastated by a summer algae outbreak.
Algae, however, have a big fan in Independence Bio-Products Inc.
The Dublin-based startup is growing the goo as fast as it can.
Of course, in fairness to all the algae-bashers out there, the strains that Independence is cultivating are different from the toxic blue-green algae that choked Grand Lake St. Marys and prompted warnings at 20 state lakes and ponds this summer.
"That’s cyanobacteria," said Brad Lambert, Independence’s chief financial officer. "It shares no common properties with our algae. We’re the ‘good algae.’ We’re your friend."
Independence, which secured initial funding from a European investor two years ago, is growing its algae in four specially designed ponds near Shadyside, a Belmont County community along the Ohio River.
The process is aided by carbon dioxide emitted by FirstEnergy Corp.’s adjacent R.E. Burger power plant. By mixing the otherwise-unwanted gas into its algae, Independence can make its "crop" double in size each day, Lambert said.
"It’s very cutting-edge stuff, but, at the end of the day, all we are is farmers," he said.
Well, Independence does a bit more than farm algae: It also extracts oil from the microorganisms – oil that eventually could be used to power cars, trucks and jets.