Leveling the Playing Field for Algae

By Mary Rosenthal | March 19, 2012

In a speech in Florida in late February, President Obama announced support and funding for algae-related research and development, and noted the potential for algae-based biofuels to help America increase its supply of domestic fuel and energy.

While his pronouncement was met with some campaign-year pushback, the timing could not have been better. The national attention on algae put the topic top-of-mind just as we had more than two dozen members descending on the Capitol for our annual legislative fly-in in Washington, D.C. This increased momentum gave us a great entry point for discussions that the Algal Biomass Organization and its members had with nearly 50 members of Congress, staffers and agency representatives in one-to-one meetings, a legislative hearing and an industry reception.

In addition to sharing the benefits of algae for our national security, economic development and energy independence, we also released the results of the ABO’s 2012 industry survey, which shed some important light on where the industry stands.

What We Heard
So what did we hear? We found a wide range of awareness about algae on Capitol Hill but also heard a lot of questions. Many people were eager to discuss detailed precommercial and commercial developments, while others were interested in more greatly understanding the environmental and economic sustainability of this developing agricultural crop. The wide range of questions and interest provided us one more gauge regarding the need for education with advanced biofuels and biobased materials, and especially algae. 

What We Said
We focused on the key 2012 legislative priorities for the algae industry. Perhaps most timely is the proposed amendment (No. 1723) to the “MAP 21” Transportation Bill, introduced by Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The amendment would rename the cellulosic credit as the second-generation biofuel credit, making both cellulosic and algae-based fuels eligible, and also making relevant production facilities eligible for bonus depreciation benefits. This amendment is similar to legislation introduced last year in the House (the Algae Fuel Parity Act H.R.1149) and in the Senate (the Algae-Based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act of 2011 S.748).

As I write this, two similar amendments to the highway bill have also been introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. We are fortunate that both of these energy tax amendments include the algae tax parity language supported by ABO.

Algae producers and industry players should also voice support for the Energy Title in the 2012 Farm Bill as well as Fuel for Enhancing National Security Act HR 1847 in the House and S.1079 in the Senate.

I bring this up as a lead-in to my last point—the results of our industry survey. We received more than 380 responses from all parts of the algae industry value chain, and a few things were made abundantly clear. On policy matters like the ones listed above, consensus was clear: 96 percent of respondents said leveling the playing field for algae would accelerate production. And more than 80 percent said that stable and supportive federal policy would accelerate the industry’s growth, increase production and drive job growth.

The survey also told us that 65 percent of respondents are increasing production at new and/or existing facilities this year. Nearly 70 percent believe it is moderately to extremely likely that algae biofuels will be commercially available and competitive with fossil fuels by 2020, with nearly 50 percent projecting algae-based fuels at less than $3 per gallon by then.

So let’s keep our foot down on the gas pedal and share our successes and our promise with local, state and federal policymakers to ensure that algae-based fuels can begin playing a significant role in our domestic fuel supply.

Author: Mary Rosenthal
Executive Director, Algal Biomass Organization
(763) 458-0068