Algae fuel has become the latest beloved cleantech product of politicians. Last month Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, toured algae fuel startup Aurora Biofuels’ lab and earlier this month kicked off an algae-fueled road trip (using fuel from Sapphire Energy) […]

Solazyme1Algae fuel has become the latest beloved cleantech product of politicians. Last month Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), co-sponsor of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, toured algae fuel startup Aurora Biofuels’ lab and earlier this month kicked off an algae-fueled road trip (using fuel from Sapphire Energy) in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. Continuing the trend, this afternoon California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the French Secretary for Overseas Trade, Anne-Marie Idrac, will tour the labs of algae fuel startup Solazyme.

What is it about algae and politicians? Algae delivers the promise of biofuels — a low-cost, quick way to transform our current vehicles to low carbon — without the taint of using land needed to grow food crops. With all the corn ethanol and biodiesel bankruptcies lately, no politician wants to get close to those options, but given electric vehicles will take many years to hit the mainstream, some sort of biofuel solution will be embraced by the market.

The often bright-green photosynthetic organisms also spark something in the imagination — of primordial ooze and bodies of water filled with the single and multi-celled organisms — that energy crops like jatropha just don’t. That “ooh” factor alone is enough to draw in the media, as well as politicians, eager to jump on the latest cleantech craze.

Solazyme is one of the companies that is leading the pack in terms of producing algae fuel at scale. The company, founded in 2003 with $80 million in venture capital backing, makes a renewable diesel product that can be used in diesel distribution and pumps. Solazyme, which had one of the first development deals with an oil company, Chevron, expects to be able to commercialize its technology in the 2012-2013 time frame, with a production cost target at $60 to $80 per barrel.

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  1. » Biodiesel con Algas Blog Verde – Más que un color, un estilo de vida… Friday, September 18, 2009

    [...] Earth2tech.com – The polytics of Algae: Solazyme and Schwarzenegger [...]

  2. “…given electric vehicles will take many years to hit the mainstream,….”

    What’s the meaning of “many”?

    “Many” as in long enough for someone to figure out how to make oil from algae efficiently enough to be financially viable? And long enough for vast algae farms and refineries to be built?

    “(C)ommercialize its technology in the 2012-2013 time frame” most likely does not mean large scale production. Just a demonstration plant.

    Or “many” as in “we don’t have a clue”, but algae might work out someday?

    Electric cars are already on the market. Many are coming to market during 2010 and 2011. Charge points are already being installed.

    Given an affordable, 150+ mile range EV that can be ~80% recharged in a few minutes are people likely to purchase a vehicle that costs 4+ times as much to drive?

    Or is algae more likely a way to fuel our existing ICE fleets while they wear out and our future air travel?

  3. excellent comment from Sir Wallace. i think electric is the way to go now and we should keep renewable fuels for our future air travel where companies are in the certification process of these fuels…but that takes time of course before allowing comercial flights powered by these biofuels but we will get there…rather sooner then later hopefully cause time is running!

  4. If I read this right, Solazyme is to deliver 20,000 gallons of fuel for testing at Pax River, Md., and/or Hawaii. And I believe I’ve seen the contract award amount is $8.5 Million. Consulting my trusty calculator yields a price of over $420 per gallon. I could sell the dod my illudium Q36 explosive space modulator for much less than that! I’ve also got a deal on my dilithium crystals I salvaged from an old warp drive!

  5. Jason Burroughs Monday, September 21, 2009

    Algae is neither quick nor low-cost right now. There is not a single algae plant in the world at commercial scale! While I hope that algae does indeed deliver on its many promises, to say that it is low cost and quick TODAY is absurd.

    Please temper your enthusiasm with a deeper understanding of what it takes to grow from 20,000 gallons to the billions of gallons we need to even make a dent. The entire biodiesel industry today, for example, only produces about 1 billion gallons. And doing that involves a massive amount of infrastructure, trucking, capital investment, etc.

    You even mention Chevron commercializing it in 3-4 years. From commercialization to billions is more years. So in 5-10 years, maybe it’s a relevant player – and I hope that it is!

    Your comments were picked up by Biofuels Digest, so many people are reading this and thinking that algae is here today, when it is not.

    Thank you,
    Jason Burroughs
    DieselGreen Fuels, Austin TX

  6. The National Algae Association (a non-political,non-profit, algae trade association in the US)has ‘algaepreneurs’ currently building algae production plants throughout the US using all off-the-shelf existing proven technologies.

  7. Prototype prices are not indicative of what may come to be.

    The first computer I bought (OK, our lab bought with federal “get computers to the masses” funds) had 16K of RAM, stored programs and data on punched paper tape, and cost $28,000. (About $130,000 in today’s money.)

    Price per gallon for biofuels is likely to greatly decrease when there is a dedicated facility to crank the stuff out. But the build out time is likely to be the reason that we won’t be doing much of our driving with the stuff.

    Electricity is just a deal killer for liquid fuels. Given a doubling of range and a halving of battery cost (both highly likely in the near future) EVs are likely to replace the ICE for personal transportation. The price per mile is just too sweet.

    We are likely to improve batteries, beef up the grid, and install public charging points much faster than building immense algae harvesting plants.

  8. Cost per gallon from some algae producers today are in the $1.10 – $1.50 range. Within two years may be down as low $.43 – $.48 cost per gallon.

  9. Cost <$2 per gallon.

    Can you provide links? How about scalability?

  10. Jason Burroughs Monday, September 21, 2009

    first off, i love the fact that we’ve got an algae/biofuels guy, an electricity guy, and a skeptic (me) all talking about this! I respect all opinions, but after being in the biodiesel industry for 4 years, I must temper my dreams of abundant energy of any type with the reality of what that takes to make happen.

    Algaepreneur – name a company that I can buy a 5 gallon jar of algae oil for $8 plus shipping. I’m ready to buy it to test transesterification immediately. Also, any time there is a commodity value for something (aka diesel or veg oil), the replacement product will be priced in the neighborhood of the existing product. If an algae OIL producer can make oil for 50 cents a gallon, and it replaces vegetable oil that is worth $2 a gallon, they’re going to sell it for around $2 a gallon because that’s what it’s worth.

    Bob – making the grid smarter and replacing a billion ICE cars with electric will take a generation or more.

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