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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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.

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.

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)

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.


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.


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.”
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.

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.


“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.

cui bono

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?

rob m.

So…. are you voting in Nov?

Richard deSousa

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..

Bill H

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…..

Come on folks it’s not a new idea. Wshington’s been powered by pond scum for decades.

I have this mental picture of Ms Lisa Jackson stomping algae.

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.

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.

G A Doss

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
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.

Dr. Bob

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.

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
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.

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.

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

Dan in California

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?


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.

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:

Richard Sharpe

A Biophysicist says that it is all nonsense.

To G. A Doss
When you can’t attack the facts… attack the source! Right?

Mike McMillan

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.

Is algae related to algore?

D Caldwell

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?

To Jaffa Powys
The wife and I use about 100 gallons of gasoline a month. How big would our algae tank need to be?

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.

Graeme No.3

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.

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?

John F. Hultquist

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.


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.

Ally E.

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?!

Nick Shaw

@ Joffa Powys
Gee, I guess the Navy didn’t know where to pick up such a sweet deal as you suggest!
The are being FORCED by this administration to pay about $26 a gallon and even that is after WE invested $21M in the biofuel refinery!


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.


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…)

Mac the Knife

“Pond scum is not a rational substitute for oil and spending $14 million on its production as a fuel is beyond absurd.”
Q: So what IS Pond Scum?
A: Select as many as are accurately applicable.
1: Adherents of an unproven AGW philosophy in America.
2 The National Socialist Workers Party
3: A Gaian centered religion.
4 A prominent community activist amateur.
5: Another money laundering scheme to generate million$ 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.

Rhoda Ramirez

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.

kbray in california

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.

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.

Alexander L.

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.

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
…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…


The US is not that bad….84% public dept/GDP ratio and 102% EXTERNAL dept/GDP ratio.
Compare that to the UK…85% public dept/GDP ratio and 478% EXTERNAL dept/GDP ratio.
Then there is Ireland 146% to 1229%
Greece at 171% to 214%
Spend some time wandering through the US dept clock.
The UK is MASSIVELY exposed to a world crash……as is Ireland.

George E. Smith;

“”””” 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.

The Sage

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.