Bloomin’ Algae

Is Exxon following in the footsteps of Monsanto by developing proprietary algae for fuel processing? Patents as an alternative to oil wells?

A warning about runaway algae by David Haberan at the Biomass ’09 Fuel, Power and Chemicals Workshop:

“Exxon made a recent announcement that they would spend $600 million on the genetic modification of algae in pursuit of biomass-derived biofuels.

“Of that, $300 million is for in-house work, and the other $300 million is intended to go to an industrial team led by a team called Synthetic Genomics. For those who know this, this is run by the gentleman who was credited with decoding the human genome approximately 10 years ago.

runaway algae bloom, China“I’d like to remind everybody that algae play a very specific and special role in our environment.

“Algae produce 50 percent of the earth’s oxygen and serve as a primary life interface between the oceans and the atmosphere.

“Algae have an extremely diverse existence on this planet, he added, and scientists have determined there may be up to 50,000 different species.

“The issue is what can you do with naturally occurring algae, or rather, what can’t you do with it? The answer is that nobody knows.

“The rush for genetic modification has very little to do with any real understanding with what the real environment has to offer today.

“There is a complete lack of regulation and information in the genetic modification of algae, and many who are aspirants have no capabilities, experience or resources to mitigate the associated risks.

“There is a distinct lack of knowledge surrounding algae’s role in ecosystems and food chains. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. We don’t know, to a great extent, what algae do in our biosphere.”

Algae Bloom, copyright 1994, Simon Walker

That earth was made for turnin’
And that bush was made for burnin’
Turn them gullies into dumps
Cut that cow up into rumps
Bathe the flats insecticide
Let that topsoil start to slide
And from mother natures womb
We’ll let that blue green algae bloom

Algae Blooooommm
Looks kind of pretty from afar
But them blue green tints of sapphire
Makes the water taste bizarre

A commercial firm is offering a 460 page report which may have required a few years but certainly is oddly described as massive research:

Algae-based biodiesel, biocrude, and biomass-derived green chemicals and plastics will start to enter early-stage commercial production by the end of 2011.

Algae 2020 presents a survey of findings from a massive, multi-year research project based on more than 20 site visits and 50 direct interviews with emerging technology companies and R&D labs, including industry leaders Solazyme, Sapphire Energy, Solix, Algenol, Algae 2 Energy, PetroAlgae, Aquatic Energy, OriginOil, SBAE, and several other innovators now producing algae in pilot and pre-commercial stage demonstration projects.

For an increasing number of private companies, algae is no longer a research project.

As of the summer of 2009, more than $1 billion in private and public investment commitments since 2007 have contributed to the acceleration of a surprising diversity of algae-based biofuels technologies, business models, and product strategies. Oil and gas majors Chevron, Shell, British Petroleum have already demonstrated their commitment to algae for biofuels in research labs and private ventures.

As if a portent of runaway algae, a huge blob of Arctic goo was seen floating off Alaska. At this point, no one knows what it could be.