The president’s fuel from algae idea – “Lower Than Pond Scum”

Guest post By Alan Caruba

Between 1955 and 1959 I was a student at the University of Miami. It was perhaps the best four years of my life and remembered fondly for its combination of fun and learning. On Thursday, February 23, President Barack Obama was on the UM campus to tell the biggest bunch of lies about energy in America I have heard compressed into a single speech.

This President has already set records wasting taxpayer’s money on a range of so-called clean energy and renewable energy “investments”. Solyndra, the solar panel company that went bust and stuck taxpayers with a half-billion in loan guarantees is just one of those “investments” and I keep waiting for someone to ask why public funds are being flushed down the toilet when, if the companies involved were viable, they could not raise private venture capital?

“And we’re making investments in the development of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance known as algae,” said the President. “Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17% of the oil we important for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in America.”

All politicians put the best face on their pet projects, but to flat-out lie about one of the most idiotic ideas to replace oil when this nation has enough oil, domestically and offshore, known and estimated to exist, defies the imagination. It is an insult to every one of us. And Obama wants to pump $14 million into algae, otherwise known as pond scum.

It is very likely that, like the solar panel and other “clean energy” scandals that we know about and will learn about as time goes alone, the average American is unaware that, by 2008, there were fifteen (15) algae startup companies. When I heard Obama talk about algae, I could practically hear the campaign fund-raising bundlers scurrying like rats from company to company.

To those of you not intimately and well informed about algae, it is that organic stuff that gathers in ponds and swamps and, in aggregate, is politely called “plant-like organisms that are usually photosynthetic and aquatic.” It is scum. It has no roots, stems, or leaves. It is scum.

In a marine environment it is called seaweed. Algae have chlorophyll and can manufacture their own food through photosynthesis. Algae, the scientists tell us, produces more oxygen than all the plants in the world in addition to being an important food source for marine creatures as diverse in size as shrimp and whales.

The notion that millions would be “invested” to turn algae into fuel ranks just above the idiocy of converting thousands of acres of corn into ethanol instead of food.

Barack Obama has been lying about so many things for so long I doubt he even knows when he is lying or even cares. It’s not enough to dismiss this saying that all politicians lie because many do not. Some in Congress right now are desperately trying to get the public in general and voters in particular to understand that America has more debt per capita than Greece. We are on the precipice of financial collapse and Barack Obama just wants to spend more and more and more; some of it on pond scum.

During his UM speech, he derided those who have for decades been saying that America has to allow oil companies access to its vast reserves in order to reduce our dependence on imported oil. “We’ve heard the same thing for thirty years,” he said. He’s right. And administrations and Congress have blocked access for just as long. It’s our oil!
He went further, though. “It means that anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about—or isn’t telling you the truth.” That’s rich, coming from someone who lies almost as often as he exhales. Oil is a global commodity. The more that’s available to the market, the lower its cost. Domestic oil always costs consumers less than imported oil!

The truth is that oil production on federal lands declined last year by eleven percent on lands controlled by the Obama administration and six percent for natural gas in 2011.Oil and natural gas production on federal lands is down by more than forty percent (40%) compared to ten years ago. The Obama administration, in 2010, issued the lowest number of onshore leases since 1984. In 2011, it held exactly one offshore lease sale.

On February 24, one day after the Obama speech, the U.S. Geological Survey released a report on the amount of oil estimated to exist in the North Slope of Alaska. “The amount of oil that is technically recoverable in the United States is more than 1.4 trillion barrels, with the largest deposits located offshore, in portions of Alaska, and in shale in the Rocky Mountain West. When combined with resources from Canada and Mexico, total recoverable oil in North America exceeds 1.7 trillion barrels.

In a 2008 Wall Street Journal interview, Obama’s Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, famously said, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe.” Anyone who does not believe this administration has a deliberate policy of achieving this goal is just not paying attention. Remember that the next time you fill your car’s gas tank.

This is the same President who stopped the building of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada that would provide more oil for our refineries and not cost the American taxpayer one penny to build. This is the same President who imposed a moratorium on oil from the Gulf of Mexico even after the courts told him to remove it. It caused the loss of an estimated 12,000 jobs while rigs departed for Cuba, Brazil and Mexico.

Between now and November, the President will be out campaigning and telling the same lies. The rise in the cost of oil isn’t just a seasonal thing though prices have usually gone up in the summertime when people travel more for vacations. It’s up because the Iranians are closing in on making their own nuclear weapons and their own missiles to hit, not just Israel, but the U.S. It’s up because it is essential to ensure that the tankers oil-producing nations around the Persian Gulf can enter and exist it via the Strait of Harmuz.

The world isn’t running out of oil and is not about to run out. The Earth floats on an ocean of oil despite the rising demand from Asia and other developing nations. To replace foreign oil with algae-based fuel would require a chemically-controlled tank the size of the State of Colorado, about 69.3 million acres.

In 2010, Obama’s mandated biofuel production was less than ten percent of foreign oil imports. It is impossible for biofuel of any description to replace foreign oil imports; just as it is idiotic to pay $41,000 for an electric car when you can have a gasoline-fueled car for around $16,000.

Pond scum is not a rational substitute for oil and spending $14 million on its production as a fuel is beyond absurd. It is the same confidence game as selling “carbon credits” to avoid the “global warming.”

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129 thoughts on “The president’s fuel from algae idea – “Lower Than Pond Scum”

  1. I think that ours discounting the how. Converting certain algae (mostly their byproduct, residues, modified material, etc) is technically feasible. The problem is the energy investment to do this as well as other problems of efficiency. It’s actually a cool idea, but is nowhere near a mature technology.

  2. Sorry all of Congress are liars- they don’t want to face the severe changes that the Federal Government needs to make that are needed to reduce the debt such as the bloated incompetent military-intelligence complex.

  3. Erik says:
    February 25, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    I think that ours discounting the how. Converting certain algae (mostly their byproduct, residues, modified material, etc) is technically feasible. The problem is the energy investment to do this as well as other problems of efficiency. It’s actually a cool idea, but is nowhere near a mature technology.

    Mature or not, I don’t think the efficiency of photosynthesis is up to the task of fuelling our economy. (I believe the commonly accepted number is 3-5%, so muddling around at ¼ the efficiency of photovoltaic, which is, I suppose acceptable if you have a few thousand years to build up a supply)

  4. Vigorously stated. Algae ‘might’ be a viable alternative for small cooperatively-funded installations in southern climates. The rig-up would have to literally grow pond-scum and harvest it, rube-goldberg fashion, to squeeze out the fuel. The NIMBY effect might preclude the proliferation of such operations…..but a micro to meso-scale operation is possible for those nutty enough to tackle it. But count on the greenies wreaking regulatory havoc on that plan…come to think of it, just forget I ever began a paragraph on the topic.

  5. When you understand that he is trying to energize his base of 18-22 yo kids with heads full of mush it makes perfect sence. They don’t know anything and get excited over anything shiny.

  6. From the Washington Post…..
    “Rising oil prices weigh on the economy, pushing leisure and business travel costs higher. Every 1-cent increase in the price of gasoline costs the economy $1.4 billon, analysts say.

    Obama said Republicans have one answer to the oil pinch: drill.

    “You know that’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling,” Obama said, echoing his remarks earlier in the week. “It’s a bumper sticker.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/obama-says-no-quick-fixes-to-energy-squeeze-derides-gop-drilling-plan-as-a-gimmick/2012/02/25/gIQAf6KKZR_story.html

    This Alan Caruba post corroborates the Washington Post article. Obama is thoroughly out of touch, or he’s planning on slam-dunking us…. likely both. What the administration is doing behind the scenes seems to suggest it.

  7. As always I have to disagree with the ‘domestic’ oil argument.

    When something’s value will be continuously increasing, and you can produce similar amounts as your neighbour, buy his now and keep your own to sell to him later. It seems so basic, although every oil producer in the world seems to be going for ‘riches now’ instead. I guess that is just politics, not economics.

  8. “In a 2008 Wall Street Journal interview, Obama’s Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, famously said, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe.””

    You’ll never achieve that. Every time your price at the pump rises, ours rises as well.
    BTW, the European taxes on fuel have not stopped the governments from going broker all the time, as should be clear by now.

  9. Let’s hear it for the high point of 21st Century human ingenuity – run our aircraft on pond scum. Meanwhile, I ask again, where’s my jetpack and my fusion-powered flying car?

  10. The reason why oil (or petrol) is so expensive in western Europe is because the socialist governments are taxing the hell out of the product. Something Obama wants to do to us to help close the massive debt he has caused..

  11. I think pond scum relates to Obama’s mental capacity. they are both on about the same level. Now if we were to do the same with the hot air emanating from his oral cavity we could warm the planet by a degree or two… OH DARN!!!! that’s CO2…..

  12. IIRC, Willis and I “did the arithmetic” some months ago on a WUWT thread and I believe we agreed that biofuel from algae does not scale beyond small, isolated town’s requirements.

    Aquaculture has about 7 times greater fuel yield per unit area, but it’s still not practical to run intensive transport such as commercial aviation and large shipping.

  13. Why Obama does what he does? He acts like a lizard: he feels the air with his double-tongue, and goes where it seems to taste better.

    Problems of his approach are multiple, i.e. having a double-tongue in the first place, having a very poor taste of a Chicago gangsters’ sidekick, and, of course, having a reptile brain.

    Not that G. W. Bush was much smarter, mind you. We need to get rid of all this sc… algae in the government, pronto. Career politician of any sort must become a thing of the past.

  14. Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. You can offer the public opportunity, but it’s up to the public to act
    responsibly.
    So this article is of no real value as an objective view . Alan Caruba may have spent ‘four
    wonderful years’ though I suspect it didn’t involve too much learning.

    Oh yes, that study concerning IQ? Well folks you have a splendid example of diminished
    conservative thought process. Enjoy.

  15. Algae to fuel has been studied by NREL for decades with little real success. There is no way for algae to compete on an economic basis with oil or even other alternative energy sources. It simply is too energy intensive. Current technology consumes more energy in filtering algae from water than produce (phototropic algae). And heterotropic algae currently uses sugar for its energy source and produces a biodiesel like product.
    I attended an algae love-in a few years ago and got enough information from the presentations to make the following observations. To capture the CO2 from a 600 MW coal fired power plant (the Arizona Power and Light Apache power plant was used as an example), you would need an algae field of 64 sq miles which would cost $35 Billion to build. This is the cheaper open pond technology which is cheaper than the photo-bioreactor designs. But open ponds in the desert (without bubbling CO2 through the water) already evaporate about 10 feet of water per year.
    Thus the damage to the desert and aquifers below them would kill the environment in that area.

    This is also the fallacy of solar and wind projects. The environmental damage is well beyond what one gets from fossil fuel projects of any type.

  16. G A Doss says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. You can offer the public opportunity, but it’s up to the public to act
    responsibly.”

    ————————-

    Ha ha ha ha….[ that was a poor attempt at a joke IMO.].

    The government is responsible and accountable to THE PEOPLE. Including what / how they spend taxpayer monies. Yes, the company put it to the public but the lack of government accountability allowed it. The company could not have done it without governments help.

  17. No one blames the government for Solyndra going bankrupt. What we do blame the government for is loaning them half a billion dollars when they knew beforehand the company would probably go bankrupt.

  18. Do look around you, perhaps put this genuine information into your pipe and smoke it:

    Analysis indicates potential $2.28/gallon cost for algae-blended feedstock using newest growth, harvesting and fuel conversion technologies

  19. G A Doss says: February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics.
    ——————————————————————-
    Of course the failure was lack of business acumen and ethics. This is yet another in the long line of examples that government is terrible at picking businesses to invest in. The company should have been left to die without taxpayer money. Algae farming is an investment as dumb as Solyndra, and when it fails, you will blame it on private industry too. Why can’t you socialists learn from the North Korea / South Korea example instead of running the experiment in the USA?

  20. Alan,
    Excellent article, you nailed the administration accurately
    One thing I noticed is that now, since the cellulosic ethanol mandate has proven to be a huge failure, the administration seems to have diverted to pushing algae as next great source of fuel to power our cars since it doesn’t have the huge known failure “record” that other biofuels have rung up,
    Mark, while I agree that many of our congress persons are less than truthful, to say that they are all liars is the classic mantra whenever a Democrat is caught red handed in a lie.
    There are a lot of members in congress that are honestly pushing to do the right thing to increase our own energy supply and stop the outrageous, wasteful spending subsidizing those who have donated to the campaign.
    The President takes mis-information to a level rarely seen in politics, unfortunately many believe the promises.

  21. Fuel from algae is still far from being a viable replacement for diesel.

    However, the strident nature and histrionic partisan perspective of this article does nothing to shed light on the issue.

    A brief article summarizing the algae as fuel challenges: http://goo.gl/5Xf0J

  22. President O’Bama must be excused for his ignorance on the subject, because, this time it really is someone else’s fault (though not George W this time).

    It isn’t his fault he was raised in Indonesia and doesn’t understand American values (or geography – 57 states?). It isn’t his fault he wasn’t the brightest person in high school (that would be a girl who’s now an eye doctor). It isn’t his fault he’s not the brightest guy in his administration (that would be his Secretary of Housing, which says something about his Cabinet). It isn’t his fault he had to take whatever hangers-on Mayor Daley assigned him (he wouldn’t have been selected by Hizzonor and the lamestream media to be President otherwise).

    He always hits around water hazards in golf, so it just isn’t his fault he can’t recognize pond scum for what it is.

  23. G A Doss
    Throwing out a few random insults is not very persuasive.
    Care to address the substance of this post with any facts or cogent arguments?

  24. To Joffa Powys

    Does that $2.28 include transportation costs, profit margin for the wholesaler and retailer, and state and federal taxes? Or is it some goofy professor’s idea of a good estimate… not counting real world expenses. A break down on materials, depreciation, Labor, interest on loans, taxes, advertizing and marketing, insurance, utilities, and petty cash would be a lot more impressive than calling $2.28 a fact, with no backup.

  25. Joffa Powys says:
    February 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm
    Analysis indicates potential $2.28/gallon cost for algae-blended feedstock using newest growth, harvesting and fuel conversion technologies

    That’s a massive drop in price in 15 months. When I looked into this late in 2010 the estimates ranged from $8 to $32 per gallon. But they were from engineers experienced in this field. Perhaps if they’d used a computer model it would have been as cheap as you say.

  26. To Joffa Powys

    I just checked the commodities price of regular gasoline: $2.82. I can buy it across the street for $3.40 (at least until tomorrow). What will be the initial investment required to save myself 58 cents?

  27. There are a few high-value products, such as cosmetics, where algae is commercial (profitable). With price based on health or vanity there is a market. The government’s “investment” in algae for fuel is as bogus as the President’s child-like statement “. . . we’re making investments in the development of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance known as algae.”

    We’d be better trying Zucchini. It’s easier to grow and it’s already green.

  28. One nice thing about algae based biofuels: they’re a great supplemental “crop” for aquaculture. If you get the costs and distilling system down, of course. You don’t need highly efficient processes when your fuel stock grows itself off of the waste from your primary product.

    If your fish ponds are 30 miles out in the country, you get a nice price bonus just by not having to ship the fuel (or electricity) to your site. It probably won’t be much more than a niche fuel, though – like the fry oil biodiesel thing.

  29. imoira says:

    February 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Is algae related to algore?

    *

    Love this comment! Thanks Imoira! :)

    As for this topic and world-wide governmental spending to save us from nothing: when oh when oh when is it going to stop?!

  30. If we found something that can be used to power every vehicle in the US that did not come from petroleum, we would still be dependent on petroleum. Petroleum is used for a lot more then fuel. In fact gasoline is just a wast product that would have to be disposed of in other ways if we did not burn it.

  31. And after you shake the oil out of it, you can add it to your sandwich. That’s a win-win solution!

    (Pass the Tums, please…. *burp*… my hamburger tastes a bit like gasoline…)

  32. “Pond scum is not a rational substitute for oil and spending $14 million on its production as a fuel is beyond absurd.”

    Agreed.
    Q: So what IS Pond Scum?

    A: Select as many as are accurately applicable.

    1: Adherents of an unproven AGW philosophy in America.
    2 The National Socialist Workers Party
    3: A Gaian centered religion.
    4 A prominent community activist amateur.
    5: Another money laundering scheme to generate million$ in campaign contributions.
    6: The Chicago Way.
    7: The green slime on backwaters and marine estuaries.
    8: The green slime ooooozing from the EPA, Energy Dept, State Dept, NASA, NOAA, Homeland Security, Immigration Dept, and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., D. C.
    9: All that remains, after the US is bankrupted.
    10: “Hope ‘n Change”, as a political catch phrase.

    I thought about it a while…. sarchasm applies.

  33. What’s the point of bio-diesel? It still puts CO2 into the air when it burns. There’s nothing ‘greener’ about pond scum fuel than any other – it’s just an excuse to spend taxpayer money. And I really think that’s the point of what’s coming out of this administration and congress – spend tax derived money, spend tax derived money, spend, spend, spend – like a disenchanted wife maxing out the credit cards before she leaves her husband. Vicious.

  34. The First Liar…

    I hope a change in November…

    To First Un-employed…
    Food stamps are really fun.
    Hope he qualifies this winter.
    Evil Idiot.

  35. Algae is food. The Japanese eat copious quantities of seaweed and if you eat ice cream, you are eating processed kelp (alginate), quite possibly from Tasmania. I worked with a guy who used to grow algae to feed the prawns on his prawn farm. I don’t think it deserves the derisory “pond scum” appellation even when it is spirogyra. OTOH I agree that making fuel from it is beyond senseless.

  36. Looking from outside, the scheme seems quite trivial.

    Obama donates 14 millions to algae companies.
    Companies donate 2 millions to Obama’s election campaign.
    Companies spend the remaining 12 millions so the profits are split 50/50 between their owners’ and Obama’s friends’.
    Companies go bankrupt but money are already “liberated” from them.
    Everyone is happy.
    Except common folk, that is.

  37. About America having more debt per capita than Greece. This might interest folks…

    We’re Already Europe – Michael Tanner – Townhall Finance Conservative Columnists and Financial Commentary

    http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/michaeltanner/2012/02/25/were_already_europe/page/full/

    …This year, the fourth straight year that we borrowed more than $1 trillion to support the U.S. government, our budget deficit will top $1.3 trillion, 8.7 percent of our GDP. If you think that sounds bad, it’s because it is. In fact, only two European countries, Greece and Ireland, have larger budget deficits as a percentage of GDP. Things are only slightly better when you look at the size of our national debt, which now exceeds $15.3 trillion, 102 percent of GDP. Just four European countries have larger national debts than we do — Greece and Ireland again, plus Portugal and Italy. That means the U.S. government is actually less fiscally responsible than countries like France, Belgium, or Spain.

    And as bad as things are right now, we are on an even worse course for the future. If one adds the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare to our official national debt, we really owe $72 trillion, by the Obama administration’s projections for future Medicare savings under Obamacare, and as much as $137 trillion if you use more realistic projections. Under the best-case scenario, then, this amounts to more than 480 percent of GDP. And, under more realistic projections, we owe an astounding 911 percent of GDP.

    Meanwhile, counting both official debt and unfunded pension and health-care liabilities, the most indebted nation in Europe is Greece, which owes 875 percent of GDP. That’s right, the United States potentially owes more than Greece. France, the second most insolvent nation in Europe, owes just 549 percent of GDP. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we owe more than such fiscal basket cases as Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain…

  38. “”””” G A Doss says:

    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. “””””

    The failure of Solyndra didn’t have anything at all to do with a lack of business acumen; well unless you consider the absence of a product to sell, demonstrates a lack of business acumen.

    The “product” they thought they had, was as silly as Steven Chu’s pond scum fuel source; and he was no more competent to judge the viability of a “solar panel” design, than he is at picking hydrocarbon fuel sources.

    Solyndra chose a PV active material, with a completely uncompetitive conversion efficiency of around 11%, less than 1/2 of ordinary competing silicon cells. Then they deposited it on a glass cylinder so it had pi times as much energy intensive “cover glass” as a flat cell required. Well their inefficient PV material was also hygroscopic, so they then had to hermetically seal it inside a second glass tube. Make that 2pi times as much energy expensive cover glass as a flat cell.

    Then the cylindrical geometry is impossible to uniformly illuminate from the sun source, so now the un-illuminated sides of the cylinder; not satisfied with simply not generating any power, actually short circuit, and current hog the parts of the surface that are illuminated, and with the sun’smotion daily, you can’t even separate the areas, to use micro-inverters, to stop current hogging. Even if Solyndra sprayed their material on the glass with a garden hose at near zero cost, nobody in their right mind, would actually pay money to put such a contraption where some potentially valuable solar energy was available to collect. They aren’t making any more land, in fact we are losing land with the catastrophic sea level rise; so in PV cell technology, nothing much matters other than the solar- electric conversion efficiency. Cell cost is almost irrelevent; The land improvement property taxes, will kill all but the most efficient conversion efficiency technologies.

    Solyndra was a scientific scam, long before it became a finance and political corruption scam; and Chu should have killed it, if he had known anything at all about solar energy conversion; well, other than pond scum, that is.

  39. I thought we already knew how to get oil and gas from algae. It involved burying under sediments for a few million years, then drilling.

  40. Rod Ker writing in the Saturday Telegraph Motoring tells how fuel companies in the EU are having to add a percentage of ethanol or methanol (Bio fuel) to petrol to keep the greenies happy. The problem is that on older (and some new) cars it rots or encourages the degradation of many parts of the fuel system made of zinc, brass, copper, aluminium and seals, hoses and tanks made of GRP, cork, polyurethane and epoxy resins.
    He comments that in the US law suits are flying where fuel systems on motor bikes have degraded it also causes problems on boats and agricultural machinery, and as the percentage of these goes up in the petrol (gas to you across the pond) it will start to affect more and more vehicles.
    So even if you can afford to fill your tank with fuel it won’t get you anywhere.
    James Bull

  41. The problem with all these wonderful alternative energy ideas is the government’s absolutely abysmal record of picking winners in the corporate world, which is totally unsurprising when your primary selection criteria is the amount of campaign contributions kicked in by the idea’s backers. If we do decide as a society that the government needs to play a role in advancing these technologies it should be done by offering the money in the form of a series of substantial X prize like contests where the goals are laid out but methods are entirely open ended. A recent example of the efficacy of this technique occurred in the aftermath of Deep Horizon debacle in the Gulf. There was much chagrin at the poor quality of the equipment available to skim the leaked oil from the ocean surface and a large cash prize was offered for the first to come up with a design that doubled the efficiency of the equipment available. The prize was collected in fairly short order by a design that not only met, but greatly exceeded that goal, entirely without loan guarantees or other subsidies

  42. No one thinks less of Obama than I … and I am a huge proponent of using the fossil fuels we have in abundant supply. I could probably be accused of benefiting from big oil, as I’m looking at several different projects in the Bakken oil shale region.

    That said the point people often miss is that these alternative fuels are renewable.

    Some, like algae, are far from large scale commercial viability. Pretty much all only a partial solution. But the preponderance of the evidence shows we will run out of fossil fuels eventually. Not in our lifetime, but possibly in our children’s.

    And each of these alternative offer the possibility at least of a partial, interim solution – that will extend the life of the remaining fossil fuels we do have.

    When I briefly looked into it, algae does have promise – again as a partial solution at least. An advantage is it is pretty easily grown and harvested. And it does not, as someone noted necessarily take huge amounts of land. Rather it can be grown vertically as shown here. Algae

    I don’t have a giant problem with modest amounts being spent on legitimate research into the process and its viability.

    This is not an endorsement of any kind – just a simple statement.

    Here is a Wiki on Algae – I haven’t read it or research it much – but it should be a starting point for people to learn a bit and make educated decisions on whether to look further.

    I think the important point – no matter how conservative you are, or how much you support the use of the fossil fuels we have – is that doing nothing to research renewable fuel options, to help extend our fossil fuel reserves, is just not a viable or smart option.

    Flame away … ;-)

  43. Al Gore has a Nobel too … ;-) ….

    btw – those links tom were pretty much all regarding crop/land based bio-fuels … algae proponents have pretty much abandoned large scale land based (meaning open ponds etc)

    From the little research I have done, pond scum IS – assuming it can reach commercial viability – significantly “greener” than other current renewable fuels.

  44. I await the develoment of a genetically modified algae designed for fuel production which then gets into the oceans and becomes unstoppable thereby destroying all other life on Earth.

  45. “And we’re making investments in the development of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance known as algae,” said the President.

    “This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedemir. Explain again how sheeps’ bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.”

  46. There is a cheap effective method to convert algae to petroleum but it takes many millions of years.

  47. I thought this was a science blog. An awful lot of political demagoguery going on here, it seems to me. I’m no fan of the current US administration, but how about we focus on facts, folks?

  48. Haven’t looked at the issue in huge detail however $14 million isn’t much for a tech. with huge potential.
    1) Algae can be used to treat wastewater on land that can be used for very little else.
    2) As well as the oil, the rest of the material can be used for animal feed, which is going to be needed given stresses animals place on food supply.

    If seems to me like the tech has the potential to solve a number of issues and provided the burden of support infrastructure can be minimized.
    That said I don’t think govt should be picking individual company winners but if a small amount of R&D money is accessable via milestones (or prizes), it could be a good incentive. I would be against spending billions, because the larger the sums the larger the potential for corruption.

  49. re: raising money, venture capital.

    Only happens when the banker or investor believes there’s some small chance of a return. Not because the competitors conspire to kill the new entrant by telling banks not to loan or else they will take their business elsewhere (at least in our still somewhat free society).

    And as long as the marginal cost of production of then next barrel of Saudi oil loaded onto a tanker is less than $5 (used to be $2, but the dollar is worth less nowadays), and the cost of the next U.S. mined coal-generated kilowatt hour at the customer demarc is less than a penny (because U.S. coal hasn’t increased in price), no sane banker would invest a nickel. Why, because as soon as there’s any competition at all in any of these markets, the price will drop towards the cost of production, not what the market can bear today. A buggy whip was never cheaper than when Ford started mass production. Same will be true in energy if/when there’s a true competitor to fossil fuels. In unregulated markets, profit is not a natural condition.

  50. How likely is it that the readers here didn’t already know what little content there was in this polemic? Algae is scum, the president is a liar and has an unrealistic corrupt energy policy that is aimed towards pleasing his base than taking advantage of the opportunities to increase the prosperity and energy security of the country. I gathered as much from Fox News. Disappointing post.

  51. Here is a way to make a really bad idea good.
    1. Build large ponds to grow algae
    2. Feed algae to carp
    3. Grind up carp to make fish meal
    4. Feed fish meal to farmed Atlantic salmon
    5. Blacken salmon in a cast iron pan and serve with pineapple salsa

  52. G A Doss says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    “Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. You can offer the public opportunity, but it’s up to the public to act
    responsibly.”

    Wait a moment. In your eyes, the government offers the public an opportunity? Didn’t you forget who gave the government his money first? I think it’s the other way round, G A Doss.

    BTW, is this you?

    http://pubget.com/paper/8326323

    In that case, you probably hope for research grants to have a go at tinkering with Algae genoms.

    There’s one guy who has a pretty clear idea of a timeline that can tell us when we will have mastered our own biology, when we will use nanotech to enhance our bodies further, and at which point in time the total of computer capacity will exceed the computational power of our brains: Ray Kurzweil, of course.

    Now what does he have to say about capturing sunlight and using it for our energy needs?
    “We will meet all of our energy needs with nano-engineered (engineered at the molecular scale) solar panels that are very efficient and inexpensive. We’ll need to capture only about 3 parts in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the Earth to meet all of our projected energy needs.”

    http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/moneymag/0709/gallery.whats_ahead.moneymag/5.html

    No Algae. You see, G A Doss, that’s the competition, and I am sure Kurzweil is right here. PV panels come down in price slowly, no matter whether we complain about Solyndra or other subsidies, the price drops to a half within 5 to 10 years. And the efficiency is 10-15% ATM and improving. Kurzweil expects 2035 to be the point in time where we can meet all our energy needs with solar power this way.

    Some British researchers tinker with coatings that could improve the efficiency beyond the theoretical maximum of 34& for an unijunction cell by catching UV photons and re-emitting several photons in the visible range.

    You won’t get your DNA tinkering up to speed fast enough to compete with those folks. They already have a huge efficiency advantage, they’re continually improving the cost-efficiency, and they don’t even have to get rid of the water in the end product because the end product of their technology is already electricity.

    The only advantage of Algae would be that it grows by itself and doesn’t come out of a factory, but how much of an advantage is that really? The tubes in which you keep the Algae will have to come out of factories. All the refinement processes, whether it’s drying or distilling or whatever will be technical processes done by some sort of machinery. You won’t engineer a giant Algae, all biologically, with a tail end out of which oil drips for the taking so we only need to hold up a bucket.

    If PV is expensive at the moment, Algae is surely very much more so. I didn’t start talking about the cost of the land needed or the water needed and how you get it where you need it, or the competition with food production.

    Maybe you should avoid that field. It will only be frustrating for the gene engineers to be completely overrun by the PV engineers. Better stick to curing disease. That’s where we need genetic engineering now.

  53. Quote from the article:

    “It’s up because the Iranians are closing in on making their own nuclear weapons and their own missiles to hit…”

    Bogus. Get your facts straight. Nothing of the above is fact – it’s just fiction.

  54. Partisan silliness. This particular subsidy program was instituted by Bush The Son and continued by Obama.

    If you really want to look for differences between Bush and Obama, look at the increased domestic oil and gas production under Obama, and the first new approval for a nuke plant. Bush promised to do those things but failed to do them. Obama promised to do wrong things but actually did the right things.

    My dad used to say: “If you want Democrat policies vote for a Republican. If you want Republican policies vote for a Democrat.” He was right.

  55. If this idea were technically and economically viable, it should be able to attract private capital without government “investment.”The only way private investment seems to get into stuff like this is the assumption that government funding will cover their investment. If it can’t stand alone, it isn’t viable.
    Haven’t we heard all this before? Back in the Ford and Carter administrations we were hearing about tire inflation, weatherproofing, solar energy and pie-in-the-sky alternate fuels. Has anyone noticed that the emperor’s new clothes came from his father’s closet? Does anyone other than the government “invest” without a prospective and fund without a detailed cash flow and ROI?

  56. I read about the vertical algae tanks a couple of years ago. I’ve also heard Exxon has invested around $500 million into algae biofuel development. I wouldn’t be completely negative.

    I don’t think of it as a replacement for oil as much as a replacement for other biofuels and diesel. This would not require the land that corn does and the tanks could be located near CO2 sources such as power plants to enhance the growth. I think there’s a lot of potential here to augment our energy sources and reducing the demand for oil could lead to lower prices.

  57. Bob says:
    February 26, 2012 at 5:07 am
    “If it can’t stand alone, it isn’t viable. …
    Does anyone other than the government “invest” without a prospective and fund without a detailed cash flow and ROI?”

    If you stopped all interference with the market, all new power plants would be gas power plants at the moment. Which would be fine with me; as that would happen nearly everywhere on the globe, after a while the price of gas would rise and slowly there would be a shift to another source of energy.

    ONLY the government can fund nonviable technologies if success is so far away that investors can’t risk it.

    A government should not pretend, though, that these technologies are the next panacea. WE DON’T KNOW. THAT’S WHY WE LET THE GOVERNMENT FUND IT. And funding for such uncertain projects should of course be strictly limited – they’re all potshots.

  58. Algae would be a decent alternative…..if it wasn’t so hard and expensive trying to keep it from becoming contaminated

  59. ah but are you forgetting??
    Al Gore is now invested heavily in Algal Fuels!
    after saying the farmers of wherever hes from made him promote biofuels
    and after he took funds out of biofuels himself.(before the truth got out of course)

  60. Here it is: http://www.cellaenergy.com/ There is just so much exciting stuff going on, whether or not it ever becomes viable, who knows? But why be a naysayer? My first computer was an Apple III. Now I have more computing power on my I Phone. Who woulda thunk?

  61. Sorry, this sounds like a political rant instead of a science discussion. The merits of this idea could have been worded so as to not be a political diatribe.

  62. The NREL study (Aquatic Species Program) was a joke. A glaring example of the ineptitude of goverment funded science. Twenty years and many millions of dollars were spent on research that consisted of:
    1) Two years of gathering samples and testing (95% of it was calling the University of Hawaii and getting their samples and research).
    2) Six months of trying to increase the content of algae to above 50% (any increase in quality was offset by reduction in quantity).
    3) One year operation of an open pond in the New Mexico high desert. A fifty square meter six inch deep raceway pond beset by high evaporation rates and large diurnal temperature swings. Only native, less productive algae could survive in these conditions, affecting the yield per meter.
    4) Waiting five years until the price of oil dropped to release their results.

    They never addressed the primary problem, harvesting. The current methods (drying, centrifugal separation, and < 1 micron filtering) are too energy intensive to be viable.

  63. Richard Lyman says:
    February 26, 2012 at 6:18 am
    “Here it is: http://www.cellaenergy.com/ There is just so much exciting stuff going on, whether or not it ever becomes viable, who knows? But why be a naysayer? My first computer was an Apple III. Now I have more computing power on my I Phone. Who woulda thunk?”

    “The patented technology uses a technique called coaxial electrospinning to safely encapsulate complex hydrides using nanostructuring techniques.”

    If they use metal hydrides for that, they might even get some cold fusion going on there in the tank. I’m not so sure whether that’s a bug or a feature in this case.

    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Widom-Larsen.php

  64. Polistra,
    current production is up only because of actions taken by former administrations, not because of anything the current President did. From the point of securing exploration and production rights, it takes several years before the crude actually hits the market. But you already knew that….

  65. Stephen Wilde says:
    February 26, 2012 at 2:45 am
    I await the develoment of a genetically modified algae designed for fuel production which then gets into the oceans and becomes unstoppable thereby destroying all other life on Earth.

    Or gets into the oceans and turns them into oil……..which puts a new slant on global warming, which we wouldn’t want at any cost then.

  66. hey man, algae doesn’t appreciate this article.
    you didnt talk about spirulina, chlorella and other forms of algae. you call it pond scum.imho not fair

    SO besides being a better nutrient than any other available(and one thats more absorable,in nthe case of spirulina.), a billion years old, single cell organisms that can grow 5 times over in one day.
    thats not a feasible energy source?
    come on fella
    but nothing should be subsidized,especially energy alternatives.

    What the obama administration should do is update their textbooks with facts…oh say like
    HEMP IS A BETTER ETHANOL SOURCE THAN CORN WILL EVER BE<

  67. Large-scale production of biofuels from algae will require huge amounts of fresh water, which will have to be diverted from other possible uses. Fresh water is a highly limited commodity in many parts of the country already. For that reason alone, I think algae-based biofuels are a complete fantasy. The whole biofuels concept is an even bigger crock than the CAGW it’s supposed to help alleviate.

  68. Barack Obama has been lying about so many things for so long I doubt he even knows when he is lying or even cares.

    What’s the difference between Barack Obama and a car salesman? A car salesman knows when he is lying,

  69. chris says:
    February 26, 2012 at 7:46 am
    “SO besides being a better nutrient than any other available(and one thats more absorable,in nthe case of spirulina.), a billion years old, single cell organisms that can grow 5 times over in one day.
    thats not a feasible energy source?”

    The problem is that algae want to multiply, not provide energy for humans. And that you have to separate their oil from the water in which they live. And that you must make sure that your algae culture is not contaminated by other lifeforms. You gotta fertilize. Regulate the temperature. Pump the water. Make sure your pipes don’t get clogged. They get clogged pretty fast because algai… grows 5 times over in one day. Which is a problem.

    When you’re done with all that, you probably end up with machinery that looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption and is as flakey as one. But when you end up with machinery anyway, why not just put up some solar panels?

  70. In my state (Washington) the EPA has a history of trying to prevent pond scum from growing especially on dairy farms. It is Ironic that now pond scum has become the official flower of the green movement.

  71. There is a new company whose founders say algae can replace oil.

    All Scumlyndra needs is $500 million in seed money from the Department of Energy.

  72. Back in the later 70s I was a post-grad in chemical engineering at Melbourne Uni. A guest speaker (maybe named Warren) told us about how early settlers in Australia had found a large quantity of a pitch-like hydrocarbon around a lake in the country. Much money was wasted drilling for non-existent petroleum deposits until it was realized that the material found around the shore had been produced by algae in the lake. In the winter the algae died, the mass washed ashore where it decayed, leaving the pitch. Warren (?) showed us samples of the material- it was like a sandwich about an eighth of an inch thick, with a black core and grey-brown surfaces.
    He was always trying to get institutions interested in developing this process, but unsuccessfully.
    I once did a web search and found that there are many kinds of algae that can be used for the purpose. But ultimately it is an engineering project to grow, harvest, and treat the algae to recover the hydrocarbon fraction, and at the moment it does not appear to make economic sense. Like wind energy, its day may come, but not for the foreseeabe future.

    IanM

  73. There is no accountability: that is the reason that liars lie. Gillard, in Australia, is a case in point. She said there would be no carbon tax, and then implemented it in a way that makes removal of the tax very difficult. On YouTube there is a clip of a woman pointing out her lie. Did it impact Gillard? Other than embarrass her momentarily, no. Even bringing the truth to 18 inches from their faces, there is no impact.

    Every four years we have an ability to bring accountability to our politicians. Sort of. Just a general accountability. All the lies, misrepresentations, the specific falsehoods and manipulations are not on the table for discussion. Our press, even though they may point out inaccuracies the day they occur, have little impact as there is no recourse to make the liars admit their specific lies and tell the truth. We have greater recourse to forcing our teenagers to speak the truth than we do the politicians, and we all know teenagers (including ourselves in the past) are as parsimonious about the truth when it comes to their interests. Teenagers understand what the politicians practice: sometimes the truth doesn’t get what you want, and those who want the truth don’t need to have it (it’s none of their business/I don’t need the agro).

    Right now Peter Gleick stands not before us, but on the sidelines. As the case progresses, he will move not more center stage, but more into the wings. The only way to get to what was going on in a public way, to make him socially accountable, is to get him on TV – and not on a self-serving Larry King or David Letterman TV. When your accusers cannot require direct answers from you, you can always weasel out of coming clean. Bush lied about the WMD in Iraq and Hussein’s ties to 9/11. Could anyone, even Congress, get him on the spot of what he did and did not know? Of course not (in this case, Congress was accountable also, and wouldn’t want to be in the spotlight either).

    Imagine this: in the Heartland case, Peter Gleick has an option of not going to court on criminal charges. But he has to sit on a chair on a stage and discuss, in pointed form, what he did and why, with Heartland. And then he has to take part in a pointed CAGW debate with Heartland. He could be assisted but not replaced by Gore et al. He could not discuss polar bears. Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts. That’s accountability.

    And then imagine this: a Congressman or the President has to stand and take direct questions at the questioner’s discretion, not the Congressman/President’s. No shilly-shallying. A judge to say, “Answer the question: yes or no.”, and jail him for contempt if he refuses (the 5th Amendment would still apply: now there’s an out that is an “in”). Forget the vote every four years. That’s accountability.

    Accountability is, as Blair famously wrote about Freedom of Information legislation, an impediment to good government as it is practised. Perhaps the politician is right. Lying, dissimulation, manipulation and cheating are integral aspects of dealing with people. At least, dealing with people whose interests are not identical to your own.

    Maybe that is what Obama and lies are telling us. The world as run by our faithless governors is a place where the very few scrabble to get for themselves what everyone else would deny them if they were clear and open. It is not that Obama et al are liars that is most worrisome. It is that what we want, the more than 99% want, is irrelevant. And, probably, according to Obama-ists, we are so damn unappreciative of what we DO get, we hardly deserve that pittance.

  74. Stephen Wilde says: February 26, 2012 at 2:45 am
    > I await the develoment of a genetically modified algae designed for fuel
    > production which then gets into the oceans and becomes unstoppable
    > thereby destroying all other life on Earth.

    With all of the opportunities for mutation over the past 400 or more million
    years, and the extremely large number of algae cells exposed to causes of
    mutation, natural selection would have done a good job by now of optimizing
    wild algaes in terms of fitness to survive in the wild. Altering an algae strain
    would cause it to have a competitive disadvantage in the wild.

  75. Oil won’t last forever. We need to start developing viable, alternate energy sources.

    I say that as an AGW skeptic.

  76. DirkH says: February 26, 2012 at 5:32 am
    ONLY the government can fund nonviable technologies if success is so far away that investors can’t risk it. A government should not pretend, though, that these technologies are the next panacea. WE DON’T KNOW. THAT’S WHY WE LET THE GOVERNMENT FUND IT. And funding for such uncertain projects should of course be strictly limited – they’re all potshots
    ———————————————————————
    Yes, but the conundrum is the government’s poor ability to pick winners, Solyndra being an excellent example of that. Government subsidy of some kind is indeed an excellent way to develop new technologies that are too risky for venture capitalists. But the government should buy the product, not prop up individual promoters. A good example is the $.015/KWH production tax credit for wind power producers. In this mode, private industry still does what it does best, which is to figure out the best technologies and organizations.

  77. “Oil won’t last forever. We need to start developing viable, alternate energy sources.”

    By adding Canadian and Venezuelas oil/tar sands, plus natural gas, coal, plus frozen methane deposits, plus Thorium nuclear power, I see thousands of years of EXISTING viable power available to us.

    You are doing well to be an AGW skeptic, but please do more fact finding on conventional fuel sources.

  78. Dan in California says:
    February 26, 2012 at 10:35 am
    “Yes, but the conundrum is the government’s poor ability to pick winners, Solyndra being an excellent example of that. Government subsidy of some kind is indeed an excellent way to develop new technologies that are too risky for venture capitalists. ”

    Government research funding is in my eyes legit; subsidies are to be avoided. For 500 million you can buy 5,000 researcher man-years.

    • With no actual production facilities, it is hard to determine what actual EROEI is. But the data I have seen from publications to date shows a negative return. Basically, the production of biomass is 0.1% per day. And the water has to be filtered each day. Therefore, if algae contains 30% by mass oil, 1000/0.3 or 3333 gal of water must be filtered per gal of oil produced. The oil is essentially the same as soy oil (but with different amounts of unsaturation depending on algae type). This needs to be converted into FAME biodiesel by transesterification with methanol/sodium methoxide. When done, you still have biodiesel.
      And this analysis does not account for the energy needed to dry and extract the oil from the algae, nor the need to recycle the nutrients in the waste biomass as nutrient replenishment is critical to reducing costs.

      What is needed is a full Heat and Materials balance on the production facility, and an accurate FEED package for a turn-key facility. This hasn’t been done as the process isn’t even close to commercialization, and the costs for the facility are prohibitive. That is why algae oils are only sold as nutritional suppliments where they get $500/gal, and not as fuel. Fuel is the last think anybody wants to sell when they have a chemical process of any type. It is the lowest value product in the value chain.

  79. conversefive says:
    February 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm
    No one blames the government for Solyndra going bankrupt. What we do blame the government for is loaning them half a billion dollars when they knew beforehand the company would probably go bankrupt.

    That was only half of it. The “government” allowed politically connected insiders to re-write the loans so they were protected at the expense of taxpayers. This should have resulted in impeachment and criminal charges but this level of corruption has now become so commonplace that it is barely noticed.

  80. Michael Schaefer says:
    February 26, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Quote from the article:

    “It’s up because the Iranians are closing in on making their own nuclear weapons and their own missiles to hit…”

    Bogus. Get your facts straight. Nothing of the above is fact – it’s just fiction.

    Ah, you’re not typing that from Tehran, are you?

  81. They do not address the fact that there is a lot of expense involved in the time and maintenance of the growth conditions, the processing of the algae to a finished fuel, and, possibly a big expense, the nutrients required.

    “Stupid is as stupid does.” If algae is such a good idea, why did he not bring it up 3 years ago! What other great ideas has he been hiding that could save the economy. And why wait to reveal them? Is this an honest thing to do? Nothing here passes the smell test, and it’s not just the algae.

  82. Dr. Bob says:
    February 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm
    “That is why algae oils are only sold as nutritional suppliments where they get $500/gal, and not as fuel. ”

    You’re right. I remember that omega 3 fatty acids are concentrated in fatty fish, but not synthesized by them – they’re synthesized by phytoplankton. It would be a frivolous waste to burn that.

  83. G A Doss says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. You can offer the public opportunity, but it’s up to the public to act
    responsibly.
    ————————————-
    Can we blame the government for pounding 1/2 $billion into a business, which the govt’s own analysts predicted would fail? The OMB Analysts predicted the demise of Solyndra almost to the day that it would go under. If the administration had been running Solyndra it would have been even worse as Obama et al were poised to give Solyndra another 1/2 $bill right before they collapsed.

    http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/News/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=9226

  84. D Caldwell says:
    February 26, 2012 at 6:56 am
    “Polistra,
    current production is up only because of actions taken by former administrations, not because of anything the current President did. From the point of securing exploration and production rights, it takes several years before the crude actually hits the market. But you already knew that….”

    Well said. “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.”

  85. As a former student of psychology (the study do algae), I too object to the pond scum insult. Only a few species would come close to that label. Algae can be incredibly beautiful components of ecosystems. Or fouling, noxious pests. They are diverse primary producers that capture sunlight and nutrients to live and grow. Some species are even farmed. After much research, though, nobody has found an effient way to turn them into a fuel source on a large scale. That is not likely to change.

  86. DirkH says: February 26, 2012 at 11:38 am
    Government research funding is in my eyes legit; subsidies are to be avoided. For 500 million you can buy 5,000 researcher man-years.
    ———————————————————–
    Yes, but researchers don’t bring products to market. Engineering and manufacturing follow research but must be economically viable. I think we are not so far apart in our opinions. Now if you want to talk about the outrageously high subsidies for solar electricity in Germany, you’ll have no complaints from me.

    But back to the argument that started all this climate hoopla. Government paid researchers are the ones advocating global economic suicide, based on government agencies directing their research funds be used toward “proving” the climate change effects of human generated CO2.

  87. I scrolled thru the comments quickly but if nobody else pointed it out pond scum from millions of years ago is what gives us oil now.

  88. [Jeb says:
    February 26, 2012 at 10:17 am
    Oil won’t last forever. We need to start developing viable, alternate energy sources.
    I say that as an AGW skeptic.]

    If the EPA allowed development of just the Piceance Basin shale oil near Meeker, CO. in an environmentally friendly surface mine, the USA has enough fuel for over 100 years. So enough time to further develop Thorium reactors and coal to gas, etc. So, i guess I kinda agree with you?

  89. On a university campus, he says “made from a plant-like substance known as algae”.
    Does this mean he is so ignorant that he has never heard of algae before, and thinks no-one else has either, or just that he thinks the staff and students at UNM are so ignorant that they have never heard of algae?

    Not a ringing endorsement of US education in either case.

  90. G A Doss says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm
    “Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. You can offer the public opportunity, but it’s up to the public to act
    responsibly.”

    This comment reflects the difference in attidude when “they” are spending taxpayers $$$ versus private industry investing stock owners $$$. Its seems as though some believe that the government employees have no responsibility to propely vett proposals for technical and economic viability before they shovel the $$$ out the door. This poor work process encourages scam artists and the likes to make outrageous claims for their ideas. Since the administration has been shoveling so much out the door, it is impossible to have a proper technical review especially since the individuals likely lack any qualifications or are pressured by the administration to OK the transaction regardless of value. Of course it does not help that contributors to the election campaign get a pass on vetting process.

  91. Be careful how you attack bad ideas. Using algae to produce fuel for cars, trucks, buses and planes is one of the most promising areas of bio-fuel research. It’s potentially the most efficient production method, many times more efficient than using corn–a very bad idea–as a feedstock.

    I agree that President Obama’s war on domestic oil, gas and coal energy is one of the worst ideas ever and it should be illuminated and castigated at every opportunity. However let’s not drag down the very good idea of bio-fuels with it. Not all bio-fuel ideas are good ones, but algae seems to be one of the better ones.

    And that $14 million invested in algae research? Paltry. We should probably invest more. Compare it to the the billions spent on fusion research–research that has yet to produce a single fusion reaction with net positive energy–or the billions spent on corn ethanol subsidies, or the hundreds of millions invested and lost on Solyndra and other boondoggles. Modest taxpayer investments in promising research? Yes. Expensive market-distorting subsidies? No.

    President Obama is correct in saying that we could potentially replace a significant portion of our fuel economy with bio-fuels from algae. That is a scientifically accurate statement based on the current understanding of the technology. However he is dangerously wrong to limit domestic fossil fuel production long before bio-fuel technology has matured; before it’s out of the research phase even. We can’t replace fossil fuels with pixy dust.

    Let’s be reasonable, careful, and nuanced in our attacks instead of exhibiting Obama Derangement Syndrome, a conservative analogue to the mindless Bush Derangement Syndrome attacks demonstrated by our opponents during the Bush years.

  92. Jeb says: “Oil won’t last forever. We need to start developing viable, alternate energy sources.”

    I agree. Let’s get our act together, get back into space, and figure out how to mine the hydrocarbons on the moons around the gas giants.

  93. Two items pertinent to this thread.

    1. With current technology, and at current rates of use, there is something like 960 years reserve of petroleum. There is no point in developing new technologies to replace petroleum just because it will run out someday–the long time-frame makes present value of the replacement nil. If the replacement is exceedingly cheap, then that is a separate matter. I doubt it will be because…

    2. Photosynthesis is so inefficient that enormous tracts of land and other inputs are required. Corn to ethanol to replace petroleum would need cultivation “from sea to shining sea”, with large inputs of fertilizers and work from fuels. Algae will not fare much better.

  94. I’m surprised that WUWT put up this article. Extremely biased. It seems that using “pond scum” as a derogatory for algae is a replacement for rational arguments. I don’t agree with all of the administration’s policy, or previous administration’s policy, but to say that spending a few million $ on algae research is a massive mistake is ridiculous. $14Million is a drop in the bucket, and we need more basic research into all areas of energy. We may have enough oil now, but we will run out — it’s just a question of when. If we don’t start working on alternatives now, they won’t be there when we need them.

  95. Lauren,
    Re “the billions spent on corn ethanol subsidies, or the hundreds of millions invested and lost on Solyndra and other boondoggles. Modest taxpayer investments in promising research? Yes. Expensive market-distorting subsidies? No.”

    One might agree with your statement, except as you indicate, the Government it is obviously unable to make sound technical, energy, development decisions with their “boondoggles”. What makes one think they would do any better if we allowed them to throw $ 50 billion at algae?
    The USA is now over $15 trillion in debt and we have thrown billions evey year at grean energy with little return except higher electricity rates and dead birds. Maybe we should learn from Spain, Germany, UK and others who are just beginning to rethink their committment to grean energy.

    Based on my experience, I agree it takes time to develop new energy sources, but the administration’s has placed an urgency to replace fossil fuels which has resulted in picking losers, excessive spending, and waste with no results. This is not a “war time” rush, the unrealistic timetables have no justification. The rush to production of commercial cellulosic ethanol has been a huge failure, yet the gasoline blenders are forced to mix unavailable cellulosic ethanol or pay a fine. The administration fix is to double down on subsidies rather than identify and rectify the fundamental problem if possible. Next. they will decide to mandate unavailable fuel from algae. They are already requiring the military to buy $14/gal fuel from a subsidized plant while cutting their budget.

    We cannot allow the government to continue on this economically destructive path with false promises, just because they have an illogical negative bias against fossile fuels. Fossile fuel production is being artificially constrained in the US to make us believe we need expensive alternative fuels, just look at the number of permits on federal land in the last several years. The private energy companies have shown they can find more fossil energy in the US, if the government would open up areas where rich resources are known to exist and stop unnecessary EPA action.

    The government and alternative fuel lobby have over hyped the promise of near term replacement of fossil fuels time after time and have little to show for it. Their credibility is shot. I seriously doubt that algae will contribute any meaningful amount of liquid energy within decades, if ever, without huge subsidies and pain at the pump, hope I’m wrong. That said I support research and engineering activities at a significantly reduce scale until something really proves to have potential based on a comprehensive audit and review by qualified experts, not university professors and labs looking for more grant money. Commercial cellulosic plants were built before the technology was ironed out. Guess what, they have failed or went Bankrupt.

  96. @Catcracking, I understand your point about government debt and the huge boondoggles like Solyndra, but you lump all research funding in with Solyndra-like disasters as if they’re the same thing and they’re not. The half billion wasted on Solyndra was a loan, not a research grant.

    Interestingly, the TARP rescue package put together by President Bush and Congress was also a loan–up to $700 billion–but it didn’t end up being a disaster. It arguably saved our economy and banking system from a real disaster, and it was virtually all paid back within a year or two. Why did this succeed where the Solyndra loan failed? First of all, TARP wasn’t politically motivated. Solyndra was. Secondly, the TARP loan went to institutions with a long and successful track record who were temporarily struggling because of the huge economic downturn. Every analysis of Solyndra available to the Department of Energy, the President, and his advisers at the time showed it was going bankrupt because of its own business model. No one should have loaned them money. The President pushed for it anyway. It was cronyism for political gain, pure and simple.

    Research funding is a different animal than half-trillion dollar loans to failing companies like Solyndra, GM and Chrysler. Government funding for research into cancer, AIDs, agricultural, transportation, energy, military technology and so forth require detailed submissions of procedures and predicted outcomes and are subject to competition and review by experts in the field. Lots of research doesn’t get funded because it doesn’t look viable on paper.

    As for algae-based bio-fuel research specifically, we’re talking about $17 million, not $50 billion (where did you come up with that?). Most experts are excited about the research because it’s potentially much more efficient and cost-effective than any other bio-fuel technology. If we stopped wasting taxpayer money on corn ethanol subsidies, we’d have BILLIONS of dollars for pure research into not only much more promising fuel technologies, but cancer, AIDs, and other things. Same with cellulosic ethanol subsidies. I repeat. Let’s fund research. Let’s NOT subsidize technologies that aren’t viable on their own in a free market.

    As for predictions about how much fuel algae-based bio-fuels will contribute in coming years or decades; neither of us is qualified to make a meaningful guess about it. That’s what the research will discover.

    Try to keep in mind another important thing about research grants. The total amount spent each year is less than what we spend on foreign aid–one of our smallest budget categories. It’s not foreign aid or research that’s breaking the federal budget. Everyone knows it’s the huge growth in social program spending. Do we need to make cuts in EVERY area to balance the federal budget? Absolutely not. Let’s fix or get rid of the programs that are unsustainable. There are lots of good ideas about how to do this. Paul Ryan’s budget that the House passed last year is one of them.

  97. A little archival searching at MIT’s Technology Review would yield more useful information about the current state of research into employing algae to generate hydrocarbons. I see little other than unsupported assertion here – and a generous application of rhetorical ruses we’d never accept from AGW enthusiasts.

    Why, at a ‘scientific’ site, is this brand of boilerplate tolerated?

  98. I love the idea of biofuel producing algae, but….

    Having grown up in Florida, I worry about the environmental impact of when (not if) the algae starts growing in the waterways. It would probably be toxic to the normal fauna that eat algae and so would its byproduct. We might have the burning Lake Erie scenario all over again.

    In the meantime, I still encourage everyone to request Florida python fritters and python boots. Hunt those to extinction by demand in the market :D

  99. Jer0me says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    You are ignoring the time value of money. That is, money today, is more valueable than money some time in the future.

    In other words, the money saved by selling the oil now can be invested in many things today, and used to create much wealth. Money in the future is just a promise. How do you know politicians 10 years from now won’t be just as craven as today’s politicians.

  100. G A Doss says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Yes the fall of Solyndra was do to their lack of a viable business plan. However, members of this administration invested almost $1B in that company, even after they were told by internal experts that Solyndra did not have a sound business plan and was unlikely to survive.

  101. Several commentors have hurt feelings about the post using the term pond scum seeing it as biased or derogatory. I haven’t seen anyone raise any objections regarding Obama’s calling drilling for oil a “gimmick”.

  102. Lauren

    As one who follows the biofuel industry closely and enjoyed significant consulting fees as an engineer, I am constantly frustrated by the hyp put forth by the Administration and many in congress. I agree with you on many fronts, but not on government subsidies to ventures that I think have little chance of sucess. Unfortunately my skeptic view has been correct to date (think cellulosic fuels).
    Please read the below extracted from the Biofuels digest that announces a NEW $14 million grant for algae.
    “In Washington, the Obama Administration outlined a new $14 million round of R&D grants for algal biofuels, as the US President highlighted algal biofuels in a speech at the University of Miami which focused on energy policy.

    In Miami, the President said: “Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States. And that means greater energy security. That means lower costs. It means more jobs. It means a stronger economy.”

    In today’s Digest, we look at the new $14M round of funding – criticism of the US algal biofuels R&D program from the blogosphere, as well as Newt Gingrich; an analysis from OriginOil showing the possibilities for $2.28 per gallon algal fuels – and some opportunities for you to join in on the discussion. What’s hype and what’s real – today at biofuelsdigest.com. ”

    Do you think this is responsible leadership, claiming that we COULD replace 17% of our imports with a technology that will take years to develop , if ever? I don’t. It is intentially misleading and a diversion now that cellulosic has failed miserably.
    I knew that the loan gurantees were never going to be paid and unfortunately that is happening all over. Not just Solyndra, Range fuels, etc etc. They are the taxpayers responsibility since few will ever get repaid.
    FYI the $50 billion is the best number that I can find that represents the total annual waste that is expended for alternative energy. If you have a better one please help me.

    I agree that much of the TARP money was returned especially by the Banks that did not want to participate in the first place, so the negative comments are not totally fair. UNfortunately as the money was repaid it was used illegaly as a slush fund for contributors that will never be repaid.

  103. G A Doss on February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm said:
    Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra, as private enterprise ran it. The failure was a lack of business
    acumen and ethics. You can offer the public opportunity, but it’s up to the public to act…”

    You elect me to office. I take your money (taxes) and give it to my buddies to start a business. That business fails, gives less than no return in investment, and you have no problem with that? I guess P. T. Barnum was correct.

  104. Actually, I don’t have a problem with scientists figuring out ways to do this. Yes it would be an expensive niche fuel, BUT it may have some off-world uses or it may be good just to put the pressure on the OPEC nations and oil speculators.

  105. Exxon-Mobile inked a $600 million deal with Craig Venter to develop a GM algae for them in 2009. As of now $300 million has been turned over to Venter’s company. Exxon-Mobile expects it will invest several billion and have refineries producing mass quantities of biofuel within 5-10 years.

    Fercrisakes Caruba you’re complaining about Obama putting $17 million in the kitty when ExxonMobile has put in $300 million so far and still going?

    [OK Dave, I'm snipping the insults. ~dbs, mod.]

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=can-algae-feed-the-world-and-fuel-the-planet

    Here’s a real article by a real science journalist.

    Can Algae Feed the World and Fuel the Planet? A Q&A with Craig Venter

    The geneticist and entrepreneur hopes to use synthetic biology to transform microscopic algae into cells that eat up carbon dioxide, spit out oil and provide meals

    By David Biello | November 15, 2011 |

    Microbes will be the (human) food- and fuel-makers of the future, if J. Craig Venter has his way. The man responsible for one of the original sequences of the human genome as well as the team that brought you the first living cell running on human-made DNA now hopes to harness algae to make everything humanity needs. All it takes is a little genomic engineering.

    “Nothing new has to be invented. We just have to combine [genes] in a way that nature has not done before. We’re speeding up evolution by billions of years,” Venter told an energy conference on October 18 at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. “It’s hard to imagine a part of humanity not substantially impacted.”

    Venter turned his attention to the genetic manipulation of algae after a two-year cruise to sample DNA in the ocean. The goal was to harvest the building blocks of the future for a biology that has been converted from the bases A, C, G and T into 1’s and 0’s—a digitized biology. He found that most of the millions of genes collected came from algae, one of the tinier organisms on the planet but one that already has an outsized planetary impact, providing more than a third of the oxygen we breathe.

    Venter is looking to boost that impact further. His reengineered photosynthetic cells would take in carbon dioxide and sunlight and spew out hydrocarbons ready for the ExxonMobil refinery (the oil giant that has provided Venter’s company Synthetic Genomics with $300 million in funding to date). In the process, the algae will turn a problem—CO2 causing climate change—and transform it into a solution—renewable fuels and slowed global warming. “Trying to capture CO2 and bury it is just dumb; it’s going to be the renewable feedstock for the future,” he said.

    –more at link above

  106. @Catcracking, I’m not sure why you’re arguing with me about subsidizing business ventures in bio-fuels or whatever. I completely agree. Thanks for clarifying the $50 billion amount. It’s your estimation of the yearly cost of subsidies of alternative energy schemes. I’ve said it twice…now three times, that we should NOT subsidize bio-fuel ventures or technologies (or any business ventures) that are not viable on their own in a free market. You seem to keep lumping research funding (R&D) by the federal government into the same category as subsidies and they are completely different. As I pointed out, our spending on research–of all forms including AIDS, cancer, stem cell, bio-fuels, alternative energy, etc.–is a small fraction of the $50 billion you suggest we’re spending to subsidize alternative energy companies. One more time: Federal funding of research is a GOOD thing, including the $17 million President Obama mentioned for bio-fuel from algae. Federal SUBSIDIES of non-viable companies and technologies of ANY kinds is BAD.

  107. G A Doss says:
    February 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Another article based on ignorance and bias. It seems odd to blame the government for
    any failure of Solyndra . . . . . .

    You have obviously missed the 535th iteration of The Lesson, in the form of Solyndra: Government Bureaucrats are expert at feeding Taxpayer Money, AKA “Resources” into an Incinerator. . . . .

    Solyndra got ‘Free Money’ because a politician(s) needed: a. an i$$ue, and b. friend$, or he had friend$ and THEY had an i$$ue. Solyndra needed ‘Free Money’ because there is no such thing as ‘Free Money’ outside of Washington DC and politics in general, and the people who have money that isn’t ‘Free’ WOULD NO LONGER TOUCH Solyndra.

    Capitalist market mechanisms free of distortion and corruption are effective resource allocation tools . . . . but they do fence off too much political (for the power), and ‘advocacy’ (for the power, by way of a Cause) pasture. . . . the answer is to exploit the political and advocacy avenues to corrupt and distort the market mechanisms.

    The New Robber Barons are those in, and about to leave Government, and their friends.

    Of course there is a Nascent alternative to The Government you are familiar with, it’s called The UN. Review the above and append with whatever exponent you think appropriate.

    “All Politics is local”. Tip O’Neill, Democrat (hard to believe, now).

  108. Pond Scum for Truth says:
    February 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Exxon-Mobile inked a $600 million deal with Craig Venter to develop a GM algae for them in 2009. …

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=can-algae-feed-the-world-and-fuel-the-planet

    Venter turned his attention to the genetic manipulation of algae after a two-year cruise to sample DNA in the ocean.

    “A Two-Year cruise to sample DNA in the Ocean”? Wow, and all those Sucka-Chumps scamming a Thee-Martini Lunch, thinking they’re so Fly.

  109. It would seem that the current administration may have bought into the proposition that “the only good energy is green energy.” I understand that modern wind and solar power techniques provide on the order of one or two percent of our energy flow requirement and in general, about 16 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources. I do not see that increasing unless vast tracts of land are devoted to solar energy farming. I am not sure that environmentalists will ignore the many unique animal species that might be driven extinct by this process. There is also an energy collection efficiency issue associated with gathering dispersed solar energy over large tracts of land.

    Just for reference: here is a link I have just found to an interesting debate on the energy crisis:
    (I am not sure that we can greatly reduce our energy consumption, as some are suggesting, without a perceptible, painful, reduction of prosperity. When one speaker says “We have more oil than we will ever need,” I believe his ‘we’ must be restricted to those of us alive now–future people excluded.)

    World Oil Supply Debate
    “World Oil Supply: Looming Crisis or New Abundance”
    Uploaded by ontheearthproduction on Feb 15, 2012;
    36 likes, 2 dislikes; 7,562 Views; 59:44 min
    “Dr. Tadeus Patzek, Chair, Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, University of Texas – Austin
    “John Hofmeister, President, Citizens for Affordable Energy
    Moderator: Dr. Alan Carroll, Geology and Geophysics, UW-Madison”

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