Algae Fanciers to Converge on Houston to Discuss How Pond Scum Can Provide Energy, Decrease CO2

Well, not just pond scum, obviously, but how often can you write a headline like that?  The National Algae Association, which is for real, is holding its Algae Commercialization, Research and Business Networking Forum January 29-30 at the Sheraton North Houston at Bush Intercontinental Airport.  http://www.nationalalgaeassociation.com/.  It may also be helpful to look at Algae Fuel Making (http://www.algaefuelmaking.com/), BioFuels Digest (billed as the world’s most widely read biofuels daily at http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/), or the interestingly named Oilgae (http://www.oilgae.com/). 

LATER ADDITION TO STORY (Dec 22, 1:15 EST): San Diego, CA-based Sapphire Energy (http://sapphireenergy.com/company) , a startup whose goal is to be the leading carbon-neutral supplier of biofuels from photosynthetic organisms, announced that former BP executive, Cynthia Warner, has joined Sapphire to honcho the company’s transition from technology innovator to commercial producer of algae-created biofuels. http://sapphireenergy.com/press_release/7.

“Sapphire Energy’s development of a sustainable, carbon-neutral gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from algae is progressing and we now need a top energy industry executive with the expertise to bring new fuel products to market in this complex industry,” said Jason Pyle, Sapphire Energy CEO. “Warner will be a tremendous asset as we bring green crude to commercial scale in the next five years. We founded Sapphire to create the perfect fuel, knowing that we’d build a world-class team along the way. With C.J., we’ve found our next star.”

According to the NAA, “Current high oil prices, the collapse of food-for-fuel initiatives and concerns about increased levels of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere have all created awareness of the need for alternative fuel solutions. Algae has emerged as one of the lowest cost feedstocks for the biofuels and cellulosic industries. Algae is considered to be a promising source of renewable fuel, that does not affect the food channel and eats CO2. which can be processed and refined into a variety of transportation fuels. (i.e., jet fuel, biodiesel, biogasoline). ”

Algae are one of the most plentiful types of organism on the earth — more plentiful than beetles, which is saying a lot.  They form the basis of many food chains, and the group includes a lot of seaweed (think kelp) as well as the pond scum that comes to mind.

The use of algae as a fuel stock originated at MIT in the 1950s.  That cudgel was picked up by DOE, but eventually abandoned in the mid-90s.  But a lot has happened to the energy business over the last 30 years, and the algae lobby believes this may be the dawning of the Age of Algae. 

Algae use photosynthesis to grow, meaning that they “eat” carbon dioxide and excrete oxygen.  They also can double in volume overnight, which means they can consume carbon dioxide at a faster rate than most other organisms can.  Processed algae is a decent foodstock in terms of nutrition, and I have actually eaten bread made from algae flour (ok, so it isn’t what I was used to, but it is very nutritious as opposed to white flour that has virtually no nutritional value).

Although it may not be one of the standard reference publications, American Airlines’ magazine, American Way, offers an article in its current edition by Heather Millar that brings some perspective to algae as a career: http://www.americanwaymag.com/tabid/2855/tabidext/4343/default.aspx

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