Where Is Algae?

By Ron Kotrba | October 03, 2011

Many in the algae community are asking why algae was 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 U.S. 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 U.S.! Our membership does not want to be purchasing oil from other countries!”

A source at DOE 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.

This was one of the topics on a recent entry of mine on The Biorefining Blog, to which Roman Wolff, president of Houston-based Enhanced Biofuels and a contributor in this issue, said, “The goal of the study was to have the best crystal ball possible. … [but] the report assigned zero production of fuel from algae over the next two decades. Sadly, many investors agree with the report saying that algae, while it is commercial already (and has been for centuries, I can send you a copy of a Chinese painting of boats collecting macroalgae), it is not commercial for fuel production. Fuel is the lowest price commodity, and algae is not the lowest price biomass.”

Another commenter based out of Houston, Luis LaRotta, said, “Algae fuel must be competitive with current oil pricing, and the infrastructure is not ready to support that load.”

What do you think? I encourage you to write us here at Algae Technology & Business and tell us your thoughts on the matter.

Author: Ron Kotrba
Editor, Algae Technology & Business