San Diego’s Carbon Capture Pulls Out as Synthetic Genomics Moves In

Synthetic Genomics, the San Diego startup developing microorganisms to synthesize biofuels and other products, said it has acquired an 81-acre site in Calipatria, CA, to expand beyond its laboratory tests of algae. Synthetic Genomics’s expansion appears to be counter-balanced, though, by a business consolidation at Carbon Capture, another San Diego algal biofuels developer.

The price of the land was not disclosed. In its statement last week, Synthetic Genomics said it plans to use the desert site near the southeast shore of the Salton Sea, about 140 miles east of San Diego, to test new algal strains that it has isolated or bio-engineered. Synthetic Genomics noted that the desert site already has 42 open ponds that range in size from 100 gallons to 240,000 gallons. The property was previously a Carbon Capture facility, according to Heather Kowalski, a Synthetic Genomics spokeswoman.

Carbon Capture, according to its website, was formed in 2006 with the goal of reducing global warming and developing algae as a source for sustainable fuels and animal feed. The Carbon Capture website includes photos of several racetrack-shaped ponds the company built for growing algae, including the one I posted above.

As I noted in 2008, San Diego-based Carbon Capture was focused on ways to use algae to absorb carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. Until recently, Carbon Capture’s website said it intended to generate revenue from the sale of algae-produced liquid fuels such as jet fuel, renewable diesel, and biomethane, as well as algae-based animal feed products. The company also identified government grants and other revenue sources, such as technology licensing and consulting services to power plant operators and oil companies.

In 2012 greetings posted elsewhere on its website, Carbon Capture says it’s “now focusing on production of fish feed, while continuing to cooperate with federal agencies and private parties” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, research next-generation feedstock for fuel production, and produce sustainable feed.

So the company appears to be winding down at least some of its operations. Carbon Capture’s founding CEO, Paul Engh, did not return my call yesterday seeking information about the company’s status.

“Carbon Capture is really Paul Engh,” says Stephen Mayfield, director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB). “He’s got a couple of people working for him, but he’s basically a single guy.”

The company first listed its Calipatria property for sale roughly a year ago, Mayfield says.

Meanwhile, Synthetic Genomics says it is renovating the desert site, and plans to begin algae production there within the next 60 days. In addition to the algal ponds, Synthetic Genomics says it also plans to design and build some photobioreactors that will be used to test and scale up production of engineered strains of algae.

“Over the last year [Silicon Genomics] has been making steady progress in identifying and modifying a variety of strains capable of producing a broad range of products for all of our algae programs, including our food and nutritional products program,” Synthetic Genomics’ founding CEO J. Craig Venter, says in the company’s statement. “The new facility will help us test these strains and production processes in a larger and more real world setting.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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4 responses to “San Diego’s Carbon Capture Pulls Out as Synthetic Genomics Moves In”

  1. fatalgae says:

    Genetically modified algae will never be allowed in raceway ponds by the environmentalists.  Every pond in New Mexico crashed last summer or had serious contamination issues. 

    • Guest says:

      Many of those seft-appointed environmentalists drink and eat products derived from genetically modified crops probably everyday.

    • Stephen MayfieldSmayfield says:

        Why do you continue to make stuff up like “every pond in Mew Mexico crashed last summer or had serious contamination issues” this is completely false and shows that you have some agenda that has nothing to do with the industry.  You need to concentrate on running your for profit national algae association and stop trashing the algae community with false statements.  This is going to come back to bite you.

  2. fatalgae says:

    Heard Exxon pulled out of Synthetic Genomics.  Is it true?