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Algae-to-energy company GreenFuel replaces CEO

Interim CEO Bob Metcalfe to step aside as GreenFuel Technologies names a permanent CEO one year after a company shake-up.

GreenFuel Technologies, a closely watched algae start-up, has hired a new CEO to place interim CEO Bob Metcalfe.

Simon Upfill-Brown will join the company in mid-July from Haltermann Custom Processing, where he was CEO of the chemical manufacturing firm. He was general manager of Haltermann Dow after Dow Chemical bought the company in 2001 until it was spun out this year as a separate company.

Incoming GreenFuel Technologies CEO Simon Upfill-Brown. GreenFuel Technologies

In a statement, Upfill-Brown said "algae has come of age."

"By developing and scaling our algae farming technologies, we aim to play a huge role in solving the world's energy problems: mitigating CO2 emissions and producing renewable fuels, while adding to feed and food supplies rather than reducing them," he said.

GreenFuel Technologies is one of the first in a wave of companies trying to commercialize algae-based fuel.

It has bioreactors that use large amounts of carbon dioxide--from a power plant or other large emitter--and sunlight to grow algae. The algae is then harvested and then turned into liquid fuel, like biodiesel, or burned for electricity.

The company ran into troubles last year when its pilot test at utility Arizona Public Service did not produce fuel as cost-effectively as anticipated.

It trimmed down its staff and replaced its CEO, putting Ethernet co-inventor Metcalfe--now a partner at venture capital firm Polaris Ventures--in as interim CEO.

Last month, the company said it completed a C round of venture funding and has landed an undisclosed customer for its algae farming technology.

In an interview, Metcalfe said that GreenFuel has a few projects in the works, some of which could be announced in a few weeks.

"We are in project mode now. These are development and scaling projects with partners who want to have an algae farm next to a power plant, a cement plant, or an ethanol plant," he said.

One project in Europe is already under way, although its partner does not want it to be disclosed publicly yet.

One in Phoenix with Arizona Public Service would be much bigger and more serious than its initial demonstration facility, he said.

In addition, GreenFuel Technologies has developed a completely new design for its bioreactors that breaks with the glass tubes and plastic bags used in its tests, Metcalfe said.

Instead, the latest product resembles a green house. But because it's designed to be filled with flue gasses, it's closed off from people.

"We're hoping to quadruple the productivity per square meter," he said, adding that the glass tube design was too expensive and that harvesting algae from the second-generation bioreactor would be more automated.

Finally, Metcalfe made clear that biodiesel is not necessarily the end product of the company's algae farming technology.

Instead, its customers will be able to sell their algae for "feed, food, or fuel," he said.

Updated at 3:25 p.m. PDT following interview with Bob Metcalfe.