Rethink Waste, and Help Save a Promising Green Technology

John Perry Barlow, left, on stage with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

John Perry Barlow, left, in a panel discussion with Larry Harvey at Black Rock City

JohnPerryBarlowJohn Perry Barlow has been a fixture at Burning Man since 1994. That makes him a founder in my book. Recently he starred on stage with Larry Harvey in a session called The Founders Speak at Columbia University. He’s also a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (with Burning Man lawyer Terry Gross), the Grateful Dead (he brought them to Timothy Leary’s castle in 1967 and wrote 57 of their songs) and WIRED (he was on their masthead when it launched).

Burner Barlow has given a lot over many years to our communities: Burners, Techies, Deadheads, and particularly the large Venn Diagram intersection of them all. Now he could use our help in return. For the past 6 years, he has been working with a company called Algae Systems, which has developed some amazing technology. The low oil price has made their investors jittery, and so they are now in a last-ditch effort to save the company and keep their breakthrough inventions alive.

Cutting a long story short, they can turn raw sewage into clean water and fuel, without wasting energy.

If ever there was a time for Burners to come together to support a positive environmental impact, where what we give will actually make a difference, it’s here and now. Their Indiegogo fundraising campaign is open for 8 days.

Barlow says:

Become a Better Ancestor: Save Our Technologies So They Can Save Your Descendants…

For the last 6 years, my colleagues and I have pursued a dream to address the most dangerous environmental problems we believe our descendants will face: poisonous drinking water, insanely variable weather, the end of the green revolution as we run out of mineable phosphates, offshore “Dead Zones” as more and more nitrogen and phosphorous is lost to the sea. 20 million dollars later we have proved it can be done. And done in a way that is consistent with our vision of closing the loop to turn wastes into resources.

Furthermore, we developed a method of photosynthetic energy capture much more efficient than solar cells and able to stand on its own without federal subsidies and using no land currently used to grow food.
But we have reached a surprising impasse with our strategic investor, the oldest company in Japan. They believed, with good reason, that they were investing in a company that would produce a green fuel that extracted more CO2 from the atmosphere than it returned when burned. But crude oil is now so cheap that they lost faith in their investment.

Moreover, we discovered that we had developed technologies along the way that could revolutionize wastewater treatment. As I’ve said, we recognized that we had created a sewage purification process that produces more energy than it uses. In addition, our unique HTL (Hydrothermal Liquefaction) process could transform noxious sewage sludge, currently being hauled to landfills at 30 million tons a month, into fossil equivalent crute oil and a nutrient rich biochar that can restore the millions of acres of depleted topsoil our grandchildren will confront.

But our strategic investor got out of wastewater treatment a decade ago and was unwilling to get back in, no matter how game-changing the technology. Our interests no longer aligned and they decided to withdraw support.

They offered us an opportunity to buy our company, including our plant and IP, for pennies on the dollar.

We saw this coming and had three investors lined up to cover the buyout, as well as the amount necessary to jump-start our operations in Alabama and commence building HTL skids we believe we can sell to enough wastewater treatment operators to make us profitable by 2017.

But one of our prospective investors developed cold feet and withdrew. Upon which the other two did as well. So we suddenly found ourselves looking at a January 17 buyout deadline to come up with the money. We decided to go long. Yeah, it’s nuts to think that we can raise this kind of money in a week, but we’re fresh out of alternatives. It’s a real Hail Mary, but we’ve been successfully hurling Hail Mary passes into the foggy future through the history of our company.

I pray you will look at our tech and see, as we do, the genuine prospect of a planet with life-support systems sufficient to provide for 7 billion passengers as they hurtle through space. We’ve developed an integrated system that can handle that. I personally endured this Sisyphean quest because I wanted, as ever, to be a good ancestor. My devout hope is that many of you will as well.

Please support them, this is aligned to Leave No Trace, Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, Gifting, Radical Self Expression and Immediacy. This could be an amazing example of how Burners do care, are capable, and can make a difference. I urge BMOrg to get on board and promote this campaign too, perhaps they can find it in their hearts to give something back to this Burner who has contributed so much to us all – and this beautiful, beat-up planet.

More on Algae Systems:

Official web site and Twitter

Seeing Purpose and Profit in Algae – New York Times, 2014

Pilot plant in Alabama produced exemplary results – 2015

algae systems


From Indiegogo (emphasis ours):

Planet Earth has no externalities. As Bucky Fuller told us 40 years ago, it truly is a spaceship. We need solutions that recognize that waste is either a verb or a squandered resource, since all flows are in a closed loop.

Our team spent nearly every waking moment of the last 6 years of our lives, approximately 394,200 hours, dedicated to developing our waste treatment technology.  We’ve had numerous successes and exceeded our expectations.

We figured out how to transform raw sewage into energy-positive clean water and carbon-negative, water-positive green fuels. In the process of growing biomass and turning it into fuel, we discovered something much more valuable. We can purify wastewater without wasting energy.

We are excited about the viability of our technology and the benefits it can bring to a world where millions of children are killed every year by dirty water.

However, our primary investor, a large Japanese corporation who initially funded our small startup, isn’t interested in wastewater.  They are no longer willing to provide funding to us as our interests no longer align.

The truth is, we are in a tight spot. 


We have until Jan 17th to raise enough money to buy back our company and continue operating.  If we do not raise enough capital, our technology and IP will be shelved indefinitely, its benefits never brought to light.

To our knowledge, there is no other process that can provide the benefits we can and do so at a profit.

We are in a position to invite people like you to help us continue developing our waste treatment system and deploy it at a commercial scale to bring its benefits to communities.

Let’s harness the power of the crowd to support existing technology and is so critically needed on this planet. We hope that you are inspired by our work and that you see the benefits it can provide.


In Alabama’s Mobile Bay we successfully built and tested a demonstration facility that takes a community’s raw sewage into one end, and outputs carbon-negative fuel, clean water, and fertilizers from the other end.  Unlike most water treatment strategies our system generates energy while producing clean water. A community using this method could get energy back while treating their water.

Learn more about the science behind the system here.

When Alabama Governor Robert Bentley visited our facility, he had this to say:

“This took a lot of knowledge in biochemistry and the ability to take wastewater and use natural ingredients like algae and be able to produce clean water and oil…it’s a great system.” ~ Robert Bentley

AlgaeSystems CEO Matt Atwood (left) speaks with Governor Robert Bentley (right) on a tour of our Mobile Bay facility.

It is our hope that you will decide to support our campaign and empower us to continue on this path.  Every little bit helps. Please donate and share. Together we can change the world. One city water treatment plant at a time.HOW YOU CAN HELP
With your contribution, we will be able to:

  • Obtain full control of our science and patents by buying back our company from our current investor
  • Jumpstart our Mobile Bay facility to get it running again
  • Reinstate our dedicated employees who want to contribute to the success of our waste treatment system
  • Develop existing relationships for already selected sites to deploy HTL skids + photobioreactor bag technology
  • Scale up to an economy of scale that makes our waste treatment system competitive in the marketplace


Technologies like ours that generate new solutions to climate change, ocean warming, topsoil depletion, and greenhouse gas pollution are needed immediately. The world needs more resilient and resource-efficient infrastructure. That’s what we provide.

Our cities are in need of help.  Some municipalities use up to 30-40% of total energy for water systems ( EPA). We need more energy-friendly water production.
In the United States, we use about 40% of all water for fossil fuel energy production (DOE).  Negative implications of this practice include competition for water supplies among agricultural uses and human consumption. Additionally, warmed water coming out of thermoelectric plants has adverse impacts on local aquatic habitats.
This wasteful system is ripe for innovation. We need more water-friendly energy production.

Algae Systems disrupts traditional wastewater treatment with a more resourceful, systems approach. Our technology pushes wastewater treatment and energy production into new territory that is far more beneficial for humans and other living systems than current practice.

Solar and wind have grown leaps and bounds, but they aren’t going to get us all the way there, experts say.  Bill Gates recently announced the creation of a private equity fund to invest money in 20-30 companies with existing technology that can be scaled up to become commercially viable.  Algae Systems is the type of tech Bill Gates is talking about.  It is viable technology that needs financial support to scale up. As the deadline of Jan 17th looms ahead, we are working as hard as we can to capture the attention of the crowd to meet our crowdfunding deadline.

Algae Systems is a valid solution for a more resourceful water-energy nexus. You have the power to help us create a more sustainable world for future generations.

People are excited about the potential of Algae Systems.
Visit our press room here.

We are a group of professionals united in our efforts to apply an entirely new approach to solving some of the most basic problems impacting our communities, our environment and our public utilities. We are entrepreneurs, chemists, engineers (civil, marine, and aeronautic), utility operations managers, vanguards of more sensible futures. Click here to learn more about our team.

[Source: IndieGogo campaign]


65 comments on “Rethink Waste, and Help Save a Promising Green Technology

  1. John Perry Barlow rocks! Imho, these issues represent the problems with granting your investors control over critical IP. Just license stuff under the GPL from the get go. If your investors don’t like it, go for government money as an academic startup, maybe in a university incubator. After you’ve done some rounds using government grants then you can go to investors with a stronger position.

    I’d suggest that maybe JPB should go chat about this experience with RMS and the Free Software Foundation’s lawyers. I wonder if they could create a free patent license that let’s startups appear to own patents for their investors, but in reality those patents are licensed to the employees with a right to relicense them if the company fails. In other words, only the original company can make money form the patent, but the company cannot sell them to a patent troll.

    In any case, I’m happy the Germans doing similar things because Germany is leading the world in environmental technology and investors and government packers there won’t be so jittery.

  2. Looks like this is an epic fail:

    $555,000 USD goal
    $22,981USD raised by 57 people in 10 days
    4% funded 52 hours left

    …Unless 50 people decide they want to have a $10,000 Dinner + Concert With Bob Weir in the next 3 days.

    Wonder how much the Borg put up. What is more important: clean water, a Vegas Halloween parade, or more Borg staff?

  3. My education is in the bio chem field.
    Anyone who does research into Mr. Barlows background will find four things,
    He is a syalist, he is a opportunist, he is a sycophant and he is a human who has ridden the coattails of every creative person he has run across.
    Total pretender.

  4. Children are a renewable resource. All you got to do is fuck and 9 months later you make the big bucks. All you really gotta do is eat twice as much when the kid is growing inside you, and when it comes out put it to work. And then it makes more kids in a few years. You don’t need solar panels or other energy shit like that, you get you own AI through fucking and make them do shit. I don’t know why people haven’t figured this out yet. It’s easy and free.

    • We have been doing that for a while now. Does not seem to be working, but I’ll remember what you said the next time one of those Feed the Children ads comes on TV. …Can we maybe get some algae that feeds on children?

      • It’s = you spread your legs and you get kids. Nothing could be simpler. Get those kids to do stuff for you. I wish I could package this shit and sell it. But apparently that’s “wrong”.

        • What part of “We have been doing that for a while now” does not make sense to you? We have doubled the global population over the past 50-60 years. Most of that growth has been where “you spread your legs and you get kids… to do stuff for you.”

  5. I guess I can step in here as a Environmental Systems designer that’s designed 8 wastewater treatment plants. This is probably a very hard product to test because with wastewater, you can only treat existing municipalities with DNR/EPA/Army Corp of Engineer approved methods and systems (that would have high enough flows, other than packing plants for raw effluent above 1 MGD). Colleges around the country are generally the “test bed” for new and upcoming technologies, and they seem to be outside of your typical SRF block grant/CDBG territory. They may have hit so much red tape they said fuck it, and the Japanese backers bailed because of the oil market collapse. There are also in a couple areas of jurisdictional permitting with the generation and storage of hydrocarbons and the associated by-products, let alone floating this gear in open coastal waters, again EPA and department of energy/USDA. It’s risky. One leak and…. you know where I’m going. That being said it looks like a fantastic treatment process. I’m still going to contribute.

  6. Well, if you can’t trust a guy who was simultaneously the Grateful Dead’s coke dealer AND Dick Cheney’s Wyoming campaign manager… who CAN you trust? LOL…

  7. “‘“This took a lot of knowledge in biochemistry and the ability to take wastewater and use natural ingredients like algae and be able to produce clean water and oil…it’s a great system.” ~ Robert Bentley”

    Old news from 2014. Here is the current info:

    In particular:

    This is behind the curve. The lack of ANY reference in their pitch to other companies and technologies is a dead giveaway. As I stated before, making this financial move to help them may prevent or delay others from doing something better. Only doing the due diligence Pure Energy suggests, outside of the marketing, will get us where we need to go.

  8. I think it is great that the ORG and burners are thinking about energy efficiency. But based on conversations with people in this exact field, the energy to dry and process the algae into a fuel is not a good energy balance. We have the same problem with corn ethanol, but that juggernaut just rolls on.

    There are all kinds of new business ideas and we need them to solve the big problems, energy, health, water, poverty. Usually we hear about them from marketers like JPB. But we have to do our due diligence outside the marketing realm.

      • Minor point: You think the Borg made a promise that they were going to keep? As usual, that was to inspire speculation by the faithful.

        MAJOR POINT: We screwed this all up 30 years ago when “solar” was over-promised and over-sold. This is more of the same, and is criminal in what it does to the good ideas that we should be doing. If we had not been over-sold solar and energy-conscious design 30 years ago, and done what the real economics and science said worked, we would literally not be in the fossil-fuel/CO2 energy bind we are in now. Trust me, I was there. The BS won and the planet lost.

        People believing empty promises is very likely the reason for the cumulative world problems we have now:

      • Here is a link to the BLM Environmental Assessment of the NV burn, as cited in that BJ post:

        The main thing about the BJ post is that they are bragging that they are complying with BLM regulations just as any other event on BLM land must do. Gee, I guess to their NPD mindset following regulations is something to brag about.

      • The BJ post ends with: “So what happens now? Black Rock Solar and Burning Man staff are exploring ways we can help our organization and our participants learn about and invest in both decarbonized or carbon-neutral power solutions and meaningful offsets for carbon emissions we cannot reduce. We look forward to working together with participants on this important issue. Stay tuned for more to come.”

        Notice that they are not soliciting ideas, though the comments were filled with them. No, the Borg staff are working on it. NPD can’t have things coming upstream. Borg knows best, and will come up with top-down edicts, and make rationalizations why what they come up with did not include anything from outside.

          • Typical how they have co-opted the BRC airport, setup by the volunteer burners, into something they can control and profit from. I would only hope that burners could make the train thing happen, and again draw in the Borg with their greed for money and attention.

            You can see how they know that beyond tkt sales, they need to tap other revenue streams. Maybe they can get some first-class cars for the CCamp spectators, with the burners traveling in freight cars.

          • The train thing could be an option, getting support from BLM, Amtrak and EPA as a demonstration project. But their NPD can never let them do this because it is a bottom-up appeal to the government, and not top-down totally under their control. Even this conversation of Barlow and Larry is top-down, Larry giving his countenance to Barlow. No, as they did with the airport, they need to take over something they control, and avoid all else. Just as they have trouble doing anything but knuckling under to government interests – something they cannot control – and happily throwing the burners under the bus. All as a way of excluding the government from their world.

            Seriously, can anyone offer as consistent an explanation of the Borg’s bizarre behavior as NPD? It predicts what they want to do and what they avoid, choices that otherwise seem at best random and at worst counter-productive.

            Or, someone prove me wrong and cite comparable examples of them acting contrary the NPD rules.

          • Here is the Rule that they follow: *The Borg will not willingly seek cooperative dialog with anyone they do not hold power over.*

            That is why they are afraid of dialog with most burners, implicitly encouraging them to join the faithful if they want to be heard. It is based on the genetic tendency to identify with a group and exclude those outside of the group – the basis of partisan politics, religion, and most of the world problems.

            That is why they will be ineffective in the global awakening they talk about. Coming to BRC is joining a new free-form group with no typical group dogmas, which is why Burning Man works as a new experience for people. The Borg have confused that with their NPD us/them model, seeing BRC as “us.” They have missed the what the Burning Man experience is entirely, instead projecting their NPD model behavior.

            Look at their enabling of the CCamps. They are based on an us/them model, which reflects the First Camp mentality, and Borg Royalty: come (pay to) join us at the top. One of the foundations of my being a burner is Equality, and the Borg have missed that entirely, as well as leaving it out of the Tin Principles. In fact, inequality is the basis of their operations.

          • It constantly amazes me how the Borg do the OPPOSITE of the world-changing potential of Burning Man. All that creativity in the burners could be mobilized, but instead the Borg take a pure top-down approach to the NV burn that not only disenfranchises that potential but also simply ignores it.

    • “…the energy to dry and process the algae into a fuel is not a good energy balance. We have the same problem with corn ethanol…”

      Yes, ethanol is only a net energy plus if you have waste heat to provide the heat. As a free-standing technology, it is a loser. Typically, ethanol is made by burning the corn stalks as the “waste” heat. Not a good CO2 plan.

  9. As a researcher, over a decade with algae and bacteria, I don’t see anything particularly interesting here. There are many demonstrated ways to utilize sewage, and many demonstrated applications for algae. And research incorporating both elements in varied ways.
    Based on the limited info provided, this doesn’t seem to be a project to contribute money to. And, if this is such a wise investment, why not go to their friends in the borg? Because it’s easier to ask for free money. Thank you but no.

      • I didn’t see discussion of genetic manipulation in my quick view of post. That is one reason.

        • I always thought Larry looked like genetically-modified algae. Of course that is a big secret, and why they have not talked about it. Who wants to admit that their algae has NPD? True, having the Borg fund the project seems to fit their story, and certainly Barlow’s spin, but Larry has evolved. Instead of seeking more of his own kind to have as followers, he wants humans!

          No, the only way the Borg would fund this is if they could accrue the Algae Systems staff as new underlings. Just like they bailed on the Vegas Halloween parade, they would rather have more people to be explicitly below them, like all those new hires in they brag about in the BJ.

    • Agreed
      From a long term return point of view this is a fail.
      Way to much money spent for the available return.
      The ‘Big’ investor didn’t bail because the return was too large……..

  10. “If ever there was a time for Burners to come together to support a positive environmental impact, where what we give will actually make a difference, it’s here and now. ”

    No, absolutely not. Opportunities to explore low-carbon-impact technologies are right in the center of what happens in BRC, and the Borg and most burners have turned their back on that, instead seeing their playa time as being an exception to sustainability. The NV burn could be a great place to demonstrate solar-driven cooling as well as lighting, propane alternatives, and PV/storage technology to replace batteries and gensets. Even solar water purification could be done. All technologies that could help the third world.

    Doing those in BRC are things where personal effort and creativity can make a difference. Throwing fungible money at anything is the ultimate disconnect. How much personal contribution does the dead Rockefeller make when his trust gives money to something – ultimately, it’s just money that could as easily come from the dead Carnegie or dead Vanderbilt with the same impact.

    Put your money into your efforts and creativity to make something better for everyone. The closest thing I can think of, short of funding your own efforts, is funding art that you appreciate. You can fund science for the common good, but can you really appreciate this technology? Another artist would do something different, but another science person would be solving the same problem, possibly better.

    Hey, this thing is not Wardenclyffe, where we might miss out on something wonderful for us (…or pigeons). With a full-scale demonstration plant, this technology will happen, but possibly not by these guys.

    • They are trying to raise half a million to purchase back their work for pennies on the dollar. $25 million was spent developing the technology over 6 years.

      • If it’s such a good idea and leveraged opportunity, why don’t they ask Mark Cuban to write a check? Not tapping the VC community for this is strange. I suspect that they are hoping to acquire equity that would otherwise go to the VC partner.

  11. “Bill Gates recently announced the creation of a private equity fund to invest money in 20-30 companies with existing technology that can be scaled up to become commercially viable. Algae Systems is the type of tech Bill Gates is talking about.”

    …Yet Bill Gates did not give these guys money. This false corollary part of why this whole thing smells.

    • For this claim to be operative, they would need a letter of endorsement from Gates. Is there a link to such?

      They need to provide a link to a pro-forma of where the money would go. Otherwise, I wonder if contributing to art would not be better for the common good. As I said, this technology is coming, it is only a matter of who and when; “if” is not an issue as they suggest.

      • The only “if” is if it will be these guys. Who knows? These guys may be in the way of someone who will do it better, with better tech or management or both. Regardless, these guys obviously don’t have the right management team, or they would not be in this position. QED

  12. Burnersxxx, are you investing? I’m genuinely curious to hear from someone like you who has been extremely successful, financially, about when and how much you invest in ventures like this. I’ve often imagined what I’d do if I had millions to spend when I come across a project I fully support that needs funds.

    • This is not about investment. Its about a chance to preserve an environmental invention that’s been proven to work – and happens to be highly relevant to our event which generates a lot of greywater. Otherwise this will most likely be buried in some lawyers drawer.

      Yes, I did donate to this campaign. If they keep it alive, I will take a look at an investment, and report back to you guys then.

      In the meantime, if anyone wants to make money investing in technologies, my recommendation would be to buy UBN on the ASX.

      I see this as a gift – and instead of to the Temple, which is destroyed, to something that could keep giving…

      • Yeah I wasn’t asking necessarily for investment advice, just was curious to know what it’s like to have the capability to give a substantial amount of money to pet projects. Must be nice while also presenting a decision making challenge.

        • I work with a team of people to evaluate investments. We look for ones where we can leverage our skills and network so it’s more than just money. The deals where our team gets involved with the management have all worked out pretty well; the “take the money and pray” Angel style deals have generally not worked out so great – although the few that have could well end up paying for all the flops. I haven’t done any tech deals in at least a year, maybe two. More interested in real estate these days – and looking with keen interest at the potential end to Prohibition.

          There are no shortage of hands out for philanthropy in the Bay Area, we have a few causes we support and mostly try to focus on those.

      • ” – and happens to be highly relevant to our event which generates a lot of greywater.”

        I don’t see the relevance. You generate far, far more greywater at your home than you do in BRC, per day. In fact, when you are at BRC, you give the environment a graywater holiday. And doing a demonstration at the NV burn would be a silly waste of money; it would be pure PR, which I am sure the Larry LLC would love.

  13. This company/technology is represented to be at a stage that one would expect VC investors if not serious private equity placement. Unfortunately the story thread being entwined with Larry LLC and his crowd suggests that there may have been financial mismanagement if not shenanigans. I would rather see them involved with people who are successful in bringing new technologies to market, not those who excel in rhetoric.

    I would talk to the VC people they have already talked to so as to see why they are looking for unqualified “emergency” financial support.

    Besides, if the technology is an overwhelmingly compelling solution, it would not stay idle as they suggest – someone else would pick it up. Emphasizing the generic need for waste treatment and clean water suggest a dodge. I smell a rat – as in IP contracts to people that want returns and won’t give up their interests; or, there is something critically wrong in the technology or team that has caused it to collapse, such as a competing, superior technology or patent infringement. They are looking for people who would not know the difference.

    You should Google the technology and post links to what else is out there instead of all this one-sided stuff.

    At the least, I would want to see a side-by-side comparison against competing technologies. Otherwise, this might as well be a plea to buy out some of Murdoch’s shares in MySpace, or reboot the Sharper Image sales of the Ionic Breeze.

    • It seems pretty straightforward from the IndieGoGo. Needs more capital. Main investor said no. Thing is kaput. Management team cuts deal to retain IP for cents on the dollar. Goes to web for Hail Mary last shot.

      I am not doing due diligence on an investment for this. From what I have seen, it appears legit. Like all these things, once the tech is proven in a pilot, large scale capital is needed for production deployments.

      Most of the green tech companies I’ve seen run out of cash. That doesn’t mean “financial shenanigans”. This is not tied to Larry and Co in any way. This technology seems like it could be useful at the burn and everywhere else.

        • “John Perry Barlow has been a fixture at Burning Man since 1994. That makes him a founder in my book. Recently he starred on stage with Larry Harvey in a session called The Founders Speak at Columbia University. He’s also a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (with Burning Man lawyer Terry Gross), the Grateful Dead (he brought them to Timothy Leary’s castle in 1967 and wrote 57 of their songs) and WIRED (he was on their masthead when it launched).”

          All rhetoric/entertainment credentials; no technology cred.

          • Every time I see Larry on stage, it creeps me out, particularly after I had my forensic psychiatrist friend watch him. He is calculating every word he says, was her observation. I want to see a guy who had so much to say about his clear idea he can’t get it all out fast enough. Instead, Larry is painting a picture stroke by stroke, including reading the guy who is talking to him.

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