Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and champion of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill that recently passed the House and is making its way through the Senate, has taken an interest in algae fuel. Late afternoon on Sunday, Markey got a tour of Alameda, Calif.-based Aurora Biofuels’ labs, where the startup is using biotechnology to create algae strains, which it says can produce biofuel for a low cost and with low carbon emissions. Markey told us after his tour in the lobby of the Aurora headquarters that “if properly harnessed,” algae could play a key role in fighting climate change, and that Aurora’s technology was “very exciting.”
Now, Markey isn’t exactly an algae fuel expert, so the Aurora endorsement should be taken with a grain of salt, but it shows just how prominent the fuel has become, with increasing attention from Capitol Hill. Now that the large oil firms, including both ExxonMobil and BP, have started to take algae fuel seriously (Exxon with one of the biggest algae fuel deals yet, including more than $600 million for an algae biofuels development program with Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics) the federal government can feel more comfortable trusting that this technology could offer promise for next-generation biofuels.
Markey’s climate change bill doesn’t necessarily have any specifics for the algae fuel crew, but the cap-and-trade portion would do more than enough by putting a price on carbon. Algae, which absorbs carbon in the growth process, could make money by recycling captured carbon, in addition to selling fuel and algae byproducts. “With a little bit of luck, we’ll pass this legislation later this year and create a marketplace” for technologies like this, Markey said.
For entrepreneurs who are toiling in the labs over algae fuel and other clean technologies, Washington, D.C., can oftentimes feel far away, in both geography and culture. When I asked Markey if he had any words for the innovators building these technologies in labs across the country, he said: “Get ready…Our legislation will unleash more than a trillion dollars’ worth of private sector investment,” which he said will create an opportunity for entrepreneurs to once again transform the world in much the same way that entrepreneurs did for the information technology boom.