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Algae blacklisted?

Is it too early to include algae in the billion-ton update, or is there something more nefarious going on?
By Ron Kotrba | August 25, 2011

Many in the algae community, particularly leadership and members of the National Algae Association, are asking, Why was algae excluded from the son of the billion-ton study, the updated draft recently released by the U.S. energy department?

 “After over 50 years and millions of dollars, that’s what I’d like to know,” said National Algae Association Executive Director Barry Cohen in an official NAA statement on the matter. “Other than to be told that leadership of the DOE Biomass Program thinks our requests for information or clarification are ‘harassment,’ we have received no response, including from the head of Team Algae, to the inquiries asking why algae was excluded from the Billion Ton Update, nor have NAA's questions and concerns after participating in the Biomass Peer Review meetings been addressed. That being said, this latest round of apparent buffoonery should not have a material effect on NAA or its members, or on our mission to fast-track commercialization of the algae production industry in the US. We have achieved all of our accomplishments through the dedication of algaepreneurs and algae farmers, most of whom are neither reliant on nor recipients of government funding. NAA is very thankful for their contributions and their collaboration because they are the ones who are going to make this commercial-scale algae production happen here in the U.S. I do have concerns, however, when I hear about government-funded algae research projects being mothballed. We want to create jobs and economic security in the US! Our membership does not want to be purchasing oil from other countries!"

One source tells me that the exclusion of algae, an aquatic biomass, is no surprise since the work was conducted in conjunction with the terrestrial-oriented USDA and National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Nobody is providing county-by-county data on algae production yet,” the source said jokingly.

Here is an alternative perspective to consider for those upset by the exclusion, and it may be wrong or right. The billion-ton study looks at material biomass potentially available today, or the cropland necessary to grow the material today, or in the case of the pulp and paper industry, the waste biomass produced as a result of commercial infrastructure. And just like bioreactors or open ponds are necessary “facilities” for the lack of a better term to grow commercial quantities of algae, tillable cropland or forestland, and functioning pulp and paper assets, are also necessary “facilities” or infrastructure to grow or produce commercial amounts of terrestrial biomass. We have land and industry to sustainably grow and produce a billion tons, but do we have the commercial infrastructure to grow significant quantities of algae today?

I’m awaiting a conversation with the authors of the son of the billion ton study to get more definitive answers, but in the meantime, what do you think? Has the DOE blacklisted algae? What else should be considered? 

 

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