The Antiguan company was already manufacturing biodiesel from waste edible oils, so the market opportunity was increasing the availability of feedstock (raw material) for biodiesel production. While researching the potential of microalgae as a source of feedstock, Elliot also learned about the potential for producing high-value products from the biomass left behind, as well as the ability to isolate CO2 and treat wastewater.
What were some of the factors that motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
I can think of four: a desire for self determination, my need for independence, having the relevant experience and expertise, plug the fact that I thought it was the right time and took the opportunity.
How has your life prepared you for this opportunity?
I studied Mechanical Engineering and later achieved an MBA. Prior to launching Themba Biofuels, I spent almost 20 years in a variety of technical and commercial roles in the Caribbean and the UK, including time with a company that developed a biodiesel refinery. This exposure was critical in the successful start-up of our own facility.
Which customers will be best served by your concept?
Our primary customers are users of diesel fuel, particularly in the three key sectors of tourism & hospitality, construction and transportation.
What impacts are you counting on for your business?
Producing biodiesel from microalgae cultivation should result in environmental benefits associated with CO2 sequestration during the growth phase and water treatment as a result of nutrient harvesting from wastewater. In addition, there will be CO2 emissions reductions associated with cleaner exhaust gas emissions from diesel engines running on the produced biodiesel. The company’s operations should serve as an engine for social development by creating sustainable jobs and helping to diversify the local economy. Themba will also be an agent for change as a result of its commitment to training and development.
How will the company make money?
There are four ways for the commercial potential of microalgae cultivation to succeed: the production and sales of increased biodiesel, value added products from biomass, as well as carbon credits from CO2 sequestration and waste water treatment.
Are there any key alliances that will support the venture?
Two key partnerships are being developed, a) with our European technology provider, who are experts in the field of microalgae cultivation and photobioreactor design; and b) with our facilities partner, an island resort with its own power generation, water desalination and waste-water treatment facilities that has granted us access to key resources.
How have you interacted with infoDev in the past?
I was fortunate enough to have travelled to Kenya with InfoDev last December for the one-year anniversary of the Kenyan CIC. This experience was very inspiring for me as I witnessed first-hand the interventions of the KCIC and impact on their entrepreneurs. I immediately wanted to be part of the CCIC once established and have not regretted my involvement since. I also look forward to the ongoing support and services – most notably mentoring.
Now that you have your CCIC grant, what’s next?
First, we have to complete this microalgae POC project and develop the economic model for microalgae cultivation. Then, we’ll prove our microalgae cultivation concept, establish biodiesel as a viable alternative to petro diesel in the region; create value added products and services from algal biomass, and keep going from there.