Although scientists have been exploring alternative energy sources, Americans still rely heavily on nonrenewable energy such as crude oil. Crude oil harms the environment, and using it in such large quantities may not be sustainable in the long run. Therefore, it is essential to find a cleaner, more sustainable fuel source.
Manta Biofuel is here to offer an unexpected solution: algae. The company farms algae and utilizes these plant-like organisms to create a clean, reasonably-priced crude oil alternative. We reached out to Ryan Powell, one of the company’s founders, to learn about Manta Biofuel’s fight against climate change and how investors can help.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Can you give us a brief elevator pitch for your company?
Every day, the United States consumes nearly one billion gallons of fossil fuel, emitting 300 trillion pounds of CO2 per year. Our mission is to mitigate the negative effects of climate change by producing cost-competitive, renewable oil from algae.
What inspired you to take the leap and build this company?
As a scientist who can really dig into the data, I know that climate change is settled science, and perhaps more than most, I can connect the dots and see what is in store for us if we fail to act. I also know that most of this burden of failure will fall on the next generation and the ones that come after them. Since I have two little girls of my own, this is not theoretical to me. I know they will have to deal with the inaction of my generation. The promise of this technology and trying to ensure a better world for my children is what pushed me to start Manta, and it’s what still drives me to this day.
What past experiences prepared you to start, build, and lead your company?
There are two broad experiences that prepared me to start Manta. The first was growing up on my family’s 2,000-acre grain farm in northwest Ohio. This experience not only taught me grit and responsibility but also gave me a deep understanding of large-scale agriculture. The next major experience was earning my PhD in molecular biology at the University of Maryland. This gave me the technical chops to dig deep into the science behind algae growth, harvesting, and conversion.
What is your vision for the future of the industry you are operating in?
Our vision is for farmers around the world to use our technology to produce renewable oil. In fact, we often like to say that Manta will be the “John Deere of algae!”
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
We are a team of six full-time employees: two engineers, two biologists, myself as CEO, and Andrew Wills as our director of finance. We have come together through a variety of channels: referrals, LinkedIn job postings, and investment inquiries. The one thing that we all have in common is our determination to help society transition to renewable energy.
Do you have any competition? if so, how do you differentiate?
We view fossil fuels to be our primary competitor because it is the standard that everyone relies on today. The primary differentiator here is that our product is carbon neutral and is produced via farming, not by pumping it from underground.
Within the algae biofuel space, there are actually very few competitors today. The main competitor I’d highlight is Global Algae Innovations. It raised quite a bit of grant funding and has an operational production site but has yet to produce a commercially viable product. Synthetic Genomics, backed by Exxon, is another company pursuing algae biofuels, although it has not produced a commercially viable product either.
At a fundamental level, Manta’s agricultural approach is what differentiates us from our competitors, who take the mainstream pharmaceutical approach. The pharmaceutical approach involves growing algae in expensive equipment such as photobioreactors, passing it through a centrifuge to remove it from the water, and extracting the lipids in a biorefinery. The whole process is complex and unprofitable. In fact, many companies who began creating fuel from algae have switched to making different, more expensive products because the production costs are so high.
In contrast, our system is much simpler and lower cost. This is because we grow our algae outdoors in earthen ponds that look like rice paddies. Production costs are extremely low, with the major cost being chicken manure. Instead of a centrifuge, we harvest our algae through a passive system using magnetic nanoparticles. And finally, we don’t do costly lipid extraction in a centralized biorefinery. We just run it through our distributed hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) reactor.
What does your business model look like?
We utilize a phased approach to market entry. In the first phase, Manta produces algae biofuel on land we lease in Maryland. We then blend this into heating oil and sell the blended product to universities and other impact-minded organizations. In 2022, we intend to scale up to a 300-acre production site in Texas, still targeting the same customer base.
Over the long term, our vision is to create a two-sided marketplace between farmers and energy markets. Farmers will purchase our equipment and use it to produce biofuel. Then, Manta will offtake this oil and sell it to customers in the energy markets — think homeowners, refineries, and transportation companies.
What brought you to equity crowdfunding and how do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
We decided to go the route of crowdfunding for a couple of reasons. First, we have had interest from investors on multiple continents and figured this would be the best way for them to support our mission. Second, we kept a pretty low profile during the R&D phase of our company and decided that a crowdfunding campaign would be the perfect way to show everyone what we’ve been building!
With the money raised, we plan to focus on four primary initiatives to further develop our company:
- Produce and sell 10,000 gallons of our heating oil
- Begin scaling up our 300-acre site in Texas
- Build our harvester-manufacturing base
- Continue to drop production costs through R&D initiatives
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
The most important thing that potential investors can know about Manta is that everyone on our team is extremely mission-driven. We want to be a big part of the shift toward a renewable energy economy.
As an investor, you have a massive role to play in this transition. Investing in clean energy startups is one of the most important things you can do. Many of the technologies required to eliminate society’s carbon footprint currently do not exist at scale, which means early-stage investment capital is critical to fighting climate change.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? have you set any future goals for the company?
Due to the scalability of our technology, we believe that both an acquisition and IPO are viable options for Manta. At this stage, we are agnostic about which exit strategy is best.
As we have discussed before, our system has solved the production cost problem in algae biofuels — a problem that nobody else has been able to solve thus far. The implications of this could be enormous, and therefore, an IPO could be the best route to maximize both the financial and environmental impact of our company.
The other option is a strategic acquisition. We would be happy to partner with or be acquired by a company that we know aligns well with our mission and goals. This option could make a lot of sense after we have built out and demonstrated our 300-acre facility in Texas. Once we’ve done that, the system could be copy-and-pasted, in a sense, by a larger company with greater access to financial and strategic resources.
Either way, we are open to both options at the moment and will do anything we can to maximize the impact that Manta is able to make on the world.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Ryan and his team take the company. Manta Biofuel is currently raising on Republic.