Clean Growth Fund invests £2.25m in HutanBio

After a decade of research and development in the UK and around the world, HutanBio, a bio-tech company founded by scientists from Cambridge University, based in Cambridge (UK) and in Malaysia, has secured investment from Clean Growth Fund to accelerate the commercial use of its HBx bio-fuel oil to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

HutanBio is aiming to secure a significant share of the maritime fuels market over the next decade, mandated by the International Maritime Organisation to reduce CO₂ emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (compared to 2008), to account for its carbon emissions this year (2024) and stop using fossil fuels by 2050. Designed from the outset as a ready-made drop-in replacement fuel for the global shipping industry, HBx will support these mandates.

HutanBio’s HBx bio-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”. These farms, designed and engineered by HutanBio and controlled by Artificial Intelligence to optimise yields, will be built on unproductive and non-agricultural semi-arid and arid land in countries where there are high levels of sunlight. 

Drawing on its extensive global cultivation trials and research work undertaken in Malaysia, HutanBio will provide the algae cultures and expert guidance to set up bio-reactor farms around the world. The 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. The company 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. HutanBio offers these industries, for example the cement industry, with a ready-made and circular carbon capture and use solution, whilst allowing the HBx biofuel to be used in their operations. HutanBio’s project development approach is through modular expansion to suit market demands, helping to build supplies of HBx in a manageable and sustainable way.

Through the development of its HBx fuel oil – 10 years of research and a trillion samples screened in the world’s largest ever marine microalgae bioprospecting programme – HutanBio has addressed a series of social and environmental challenges that many other biofuels face. 

HBx’s production does not use any fresh water and has been optimised to thrive in brackish to very salty environments, it avoids competition with agriculture and does not drive deforestation or peatland destruction and, unlike current biofuels from terrestrial oil-crops, does not compete for food resources. It can bring life to barren desert landscapes and add to the planet’s photosynthetic capacity.  It can scale in semi-arid and arid areas to remove millions of tonnes of CO₂, cleanly and safely from the earth’s atmosphere.

The science behind HutanBio has been led by three people and who founded the company: Dr John Archer from Cambridge University (now the company’s Chief Scientific Officer), Noor Azlin Mokhtar, originally a PhD student at Cambridge working with John and now the company’s Director of Operations, and Suhaiza Ahmad Jamhor, who has a Masters degree in Biotechnology from Universiti Selangor in Malaysia. The company’s Chief Executive is Paul Beastall, who has had a career in scaling UK technology companies and has been instrumental in transforming HutanBio from a science-based company into a commercial venture.

Dr John Archer 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.”

Highlighting HBx’s commercial opportunity in global shipping, Paul Beastall, CEO 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, but 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.” The investment from Clean Growth Fund will support the expansion of HutanBio’s engineering and business development teams in Cambridge. Clean Growth Fund is a venture capital fund investing in the UK’s most promising early stage cleantech companies that have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”