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Former Cambridge scientist’s biotech startup pours in £2.25M funding for sustainable algae biofuel

HutanBio team
Picture credits: HutanBio

As consumers become increasingly climate aware, it’s no surprise that the maritime industry’s customers demand a transition to low-carbon fuels. As it stands, existing suppliers cannot scale. Although shipping and long-haul transportation only contribute around 3% of transportation carbon emissions, they provide a critical service and are the foundations on which global trade exists.

HutanBio, a biotech startup founded by scientists from Cambridge University, based in Cambridge and Malaysia, aims to solve this problem by developing a low-carbon, scalable drop-in replacement fuel for the £30 billion global shipping industry. 

Commercial use of bio-fuel oil

In a recent development, HutanBio netted £2.25 million in investment from Clean Growth Fund, a leading UK cleantech VC fund that backed Kamma and HydRegen. The investment will accelerate the commercial use of its HBx bio-fuel oil, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

HutanBio’s HBx bio-fuel oil is a sustainable and scalable high energy density, low carbon, sulphur-free fuel solution, that uses CO2 greenhouse gas as a feedstock for algae that are grown in special bio-reactor farms. As per the company, these farms, designed and engineered by HutanBio are controlled by Artificial Intelligence optimise yields. The investment will also support the expansion of HutanBio’s engineering and business development teams in Cambridge.

The Malaysian startup notes that the HBx production process does not use any fresh water. It avoids competition with agriculture and does not drive deforestation or peatland destruction, unlike current biofuels from terrestrial oil crops. It is said to bring life to barren desert landscapes, add to the planet’s photosynthetic capacity, and scale in semi-arid and arid areas to remove millions of tonnes of CO2, cleanly and safely from the earth’s atmosphere.

Brainchild of ex-Cambridge University scientists 

In 2019, HutanBio was founded by Dr. John Archer from Cambridge University, Noor Azlin Mokhtar, a PhD student at Cambridge, and Suhaiza Ahmad Jamhor with a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from Universiti Selangor in Malaysia. 

The company converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into flammable hydrocarbons. It is believed that hydrocarbons are the only reliable way to carry sufficient energy density for long-haul transportation but current biofuels sacrifice arable land, clean water, and foodstuff. Using salt water and automated photosynthesis bioreactors, its tech is cost-effective, scalable, and disruptive without destruction.

Eyes for biofarms across the world 

HutanBio will provide the algae cultures and expert guidance to set up bio-reactor farms around the world. These biofarms will increase a country’s energy security, provide a major economic stimulus and enhance the local environment. HutanBio will help countries to become green and sustainable powerhouses. It is investigating the possibility of its first biofarms to be in Morocco and Australia.

Given the need for CO2 as a feedstock for its algae, HutanBio expects to locate some of its bio-reactor farms on land adjacent to high CO2-emitting heavy industries. It offers sectors such as the cement industry a ready-made and circular carbon capture and use solution. Also, it allows the HBx biofuel to be used in the industry’s operations. 

Dr John Archer, co-founder of HutanBio said: “Clean Growth Fund’s investment in HutanBio, coupled with the strong commercial interest in HBx now being shown by potential customers from around the world, is hugely exciting and underlines the company’s massive potential. We have been patient and rigorous in our scientific work to ensure that HBx is market-ready, demonstrating the world-class expertise and tenacity of our team. We believe that HBx unlocks the biofuel puzzle, with the capability to produce a cost-effective biofuel an order of magnitude greater than any other oil-crop.”

Paul Beastall, CEO at HutanBio said: “We have designed HBx from the outset to blend seamlessly with existing infrastructure and supply chains. It requires no engine or vessel modification, meaning adoption of HBx can be immediate and without affecting operational efficiency. Vessel life can be maximised whilst carbon emissions are reduced without changing ship and port operations which is crucial for rapid deployment.”

Dr Jonathan Tudor, Investment Partner at Clean Growth Fund said: “The positive impact that HBx can have on today and tomorrow’s world is significant. We know that the use of algae has long been recognised as a promising source of biofuel and for varying reasons many companies have failed to successfully commercialise. However, the scientific rigor of HutanBio, the qualities of HBx, and the market opportunities it has in the shipping and aviation sectors in particular gives Clean Growth Fund cause for great celebration to support the company’s future growth.HutanBio can be a major disruptor in the fuel supply market and make a major contribution to the decarbonisation of transport and the hard-to-abate heavy industries.”

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