The Original Game-Changer
If I’ve learned anything during my time covering the algae industry, it would be this: “Don’t forget to remember.”
Algae isn’t perfect, and when used for energy production, carbon capture or wastewater purification, there are obvious issues that generate debate regarding the level of financial commitment or research and development efforts that should be allotted to algae-based endeavors. But, a recent round of funding ($36 million) awarded by the
Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to game-changing projects that met the requirements of a program called PETRO, Plants Engineered To Replace Oil, helped to remind me not to forget that for anyone arguing against algae there is a simple question to ask. Is there a better alternative option to fossil-based oil with more potential?
Look at the descriptions of the projects that were awarded at minimum, $900,000 plus. A project at the University of Florida will work on developing the turpentine content in Southern Pine, increasing the amount from 3 percent to 20 percent, all in the hopes that a turpentine bloated tree might someday be a perfect energy crop. Another project at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will work to tweak sugarcane and sorghum in a way that will allow both to produce oil, and on top of that the team will also crossbreed those tweaked versions of sugarcane and sorghum with a miscanthus breed to make the hypothetical plants more suitable for more geographic regions.
So what do turpentine projects and tweaked sugarcane plants mean to algae? Two things. For one, the level of innovation and game-changing developmental theories that are being put into practice at universities and research labs across the country is amazing. But anyone in algae already knew that.
Secondly, although I’m in complete support of the projects awarded by the ARPA-E, and completely hope the projects all succeed (the likelihood is that many won’t), any negative arguments or disbelief coming from those against or not for algae are hard to agree with, even when there is no doubt that algae is not perfect, because if the alternative to finding replacements for fossil oil is to pump Southern Pine with more turpentine or tweak sugarcane and sorghum, or in algae’s case, to grow, harvest and extract the lipid oils from algal cells, I think I’ll support the approach that has already seen significant time, money and research, and remember that algae is the original game-changer.
Do you have any other reasons why not to forget about algae? Let’s hear them. And a better alternative with more potential, let’s certainly hear those.