Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
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The future is green and growing in the Bay of Fundy

scientist

Call it Green Gold.

As a clean alternative to fossil fuels,
algal oil
– a bio-product derived from algae – might just be our next Great Green Hope. When it comes to tapping these microscopic wells for the biofuel of the future, a small Nova Scotia company is on the cusp of some game-changing innovations.

Mara Renewables Corporation, a research firm based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, learned that the microorganism ‘T18’ – a form of algae that grows naturally in the Bay of Fundy – produces algal oil at a much higher rate than other strains of algae currently being used in biofuel research. Now, the firm is hard at work developing cost-effective, innovative processes for producing and extracting this valuable bio-product. 

The stakes are high. Sky high, in fact. Clean, green and biodegradable, algal-based biofuels have the potential in the future to act as a replacement for petroleum products, and even as jet fuel.

Mara’s founder and president, John Risley, is no stranger to sourcing innovative ideas from the sea. Mr. Risley previously built Ocean Nutrition Canada (ONC), which he helped to turn into the world’s leading supplier of marine-based dietary supplements and nutraceuticals derived from fish oils. In fact, Mara was borne out of research completed at ONC and was the last spin-off before Ocean Nutrition was acquired by Royal DSM for $540 million in July 2012. 

Mara’s team of close to 20 scientists have been focusing on completing a research and development phase to derive clean energy from T18. As Dr. Roberto Armenta, Chief Scientist and Director of Research and Development, explains, the process of deriving clean energy from T18 is “similar to brewing beer.”

“Instead of feeding sugar to algae, scientists use waste materials, which ferment and eventually produce oil – a process that does not require sunlight,” says. Dr. Armenta. 

Mara is testing a number of waste materials to find the optimal ingredients for this process, including local potato and apple waste. 

three scientists

Through its integrated biofuel production system, Mara plans to produce and sell algal-oil feedstock and biofuels to distributors and refineries here and abroad.

“ACOA support was fundamental in the development of this technology, which has many potential applications worldwide,” says Dr. Armenta.

While proving the feasibility of producing fuel from algae, Mara’s scientists have also been working to ensure that it’s possible to do so quickly (in less than
five days) and at a price comparable to a barrel of oil – not a small feat! 

With values rooted in sustainability, Mara is proud to be ‘part of the solution’ when it comes to environmental challenges. And in this case, this home-grown solution could one day find its way into the fuel tank of your car, or the plane in which you’re flying.

Published April 9, 2015