Issue: Nov 2009

DOE Algae roadmap


by Bob Brooks

Speaking at a recent Pacific Rim Summit on Biotechnology & Bioenergy, Valerie Reed, office of Energy and Efficiency, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) explained that the compelling need for “drop-in” biofuels combined with evidence of potential for large scale economic production of algae based fuel will be the focus of a “National Algal Biofuels Roadmap”. (algal/algae essentially the same for discussion)

Reed reportedly indicated that algae based fuel has better potential than other bio materials for achieving the quantities and cost levels needed while simultaneously achieving important environmental objectives. She reportedly said cellulosic based biofuels have less potential.

Reed indicated that new funding support from DOE will be available for a broad spectrum of R&D projects. AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRIES could not determine, however, the degree to which DOE will support the algae related achievements already demonstrated by commercial and private equity firms as contrasted with efforts to start and expand R&D activities in general aimed at DOE policy objective favoring new “drop-in” fuel.

Also unclear is whether DOE’s loan of about $1 billion to two new start electric vehicle developers represents revision in its “drop-in” fuel objective with electric vehicles expected to be priced above the mass vehicle market level, have new and difficult fueling characteristics and undefined total pollution and road tax collection issues. It is also unclear how funding for two new electric car ventures now identified with luxury products relate to electric car development at GM which is 60% owned by the U.S. Government. DOE has confirmed to AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRIES that technology developed with $1 billion in U.S. Government loans to the two new electric car companies, will not be made available to others.

DOE’s NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab.) recently joined forces with Algenol Biofuels, Inc, Dow Chemical Co, Georgia Institute of Technology and Membrane Technology & Research, Inc. in a joint effort to expedite commercialization of Algenol’s existing algae direct-to-ethanol technology. The Algenol team of 5 has now become a team of 6 with the addition of The Linde Group which will contribute its expertise for control of CO2 and O2 to optimize algae growth. Linde is a world leader in the field of industrial gases and now supplies CO2 for enhanced growth of food crops in large hot houses. .

A central question now certain to emerge from DOE’s algae “roadmap” is the degree to which the Algenol team effort example will be a favored strategy for kick starting volume production of “drop in” algae based fuel. Considering the economic and environmental importance of U.S. produced algae based fuel compared with imported petroleum , DOE’s algae “roadmap” is certain to receive broad attention.

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