Algae Industry Moves Beyond Research to Commercialization

We haven’t heard much news about the algae industry lately, but apparently it’s getting ready for prime time. 

This crucial industry has the potential to address many of the challenges facing the world today – it can fuel vehicles and  airplanes, recycle carbon, provide nutrition for animals and people and create jobs for millions of Americans. Substituting algae for palm oil would go a long way to stopping deforestation, for example.

By a wide majority of 75%, the industry continues to believe algae-based fuels will reach price parity with fossil fuels by 2020, as they have in the last three annual surveys.

And while 91% of algae fuel producers say the biofuels will cost less than $5 a gallon by 2020, 48% say the cost be under $3 a gallon by then.

As for algae products like feed, food, plastics and chemicals, the industry is close to unanimous that they will be commercially available and price competitive by then. 

More than 70% expect to increase production and hiring this year and 89% of employers say consistent, supportive federal government policies would accelerate this growth.

"The results broadly show an industry that continues to grow; from increased production of biomass and oils, to increased hiring, to a wider variety of end products," says the Algae Biomass Organization.

The first building to be covered in algae, in Germany. The algae creates fuels to heat the building, provide shade and muffle street noise. 

Algae-covered building BIQ

Last year, the industry made widespread progress on both research breakthroughs in yields and algae biology, and on commercialization, with several companies opening or continuing successful operations at pilot or commercial scale facilities, they say. The two biggest companies are Sapphire (New Mexico) and Algenol (Florida).

Research shows the most productive places in the US to grow algae and a standard platform for evaluating strains has been developed.

While funding for research and development are still needed, what’s most essential is support for commercialization – tax incentives and credits, and the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The industry needs a Manhattan Project to scale commercialization, says the National Algae Association, it’s no longer science that’s holding it back. 

Let Us Grow By Cutting Carbon Emissions

It takes 29-33 pounds of carbon dioxide to produce 1 gallon of algae fuel, says Sapphire, and being able to capture carbon emissions from power plants can make it or break it for the industry.

For that reason, the industry wants official recognition in EPA’s  Clean Power Plan, which provides a menu of options for how states can cut emissions. But so far, the EPA doesn’t include reuse as a solution – only capturing carbon and burying it underground. 

To us, the prospect of capturing the carbon and turning it into new products makes much more sense – and utilities would be able to sell the carbon – rather than paying exorbitant fees to pump it underground.

Read more about the progress of the industry in our article, Algae Gets A Congressional Caucus.

Read the Executive Summary of the 2015 Industry Survey:

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Comments on “Algae Industry Moves Beyond Research to Commercialization”

  1. anonymous

    US taxpayer has spent over #2.5 billion on algae research over 60 years. Where is the promised fuels? India, China?

  2. NAA

    The claim that the US government wants to reduce dependency on foreign oil has been misleading to US taxpayers and to the emerging algae fuel industry. Getting off foreign oil has been the rallying cry for the last decade, and billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to develop technologies that will accomplish that goal. So, Washington, where are the promised algae fuels?

    We have witnessed grant recipients, researchers and lobbyists change their missions as the grant wind blows.The latest mission is to pressure the government to change the renewable fuels standards, not to pressure grant recipients to produce the oil they’ve claim they’ve allegedly proven they can produce. But the fact is that the technologies that have been paid for by US taxpayer dollars are being sold to foreign countries by the very same companies that used taxpayer dollars to develop them.

    This situation has become a total victory for the favored few algae research grant recipients who received federal money based on grant applications containing less than truthful information, the researchers and Department of Energy Biomass Program employees who’ve made an entire career out of the buffoonery, and for the companies who received US government money to develop the technologies and foreign money to put them into operation.

    Taxpayers are tired of hearing that algae fuels are still being researched or in pilot stage. Researchers claim they have established industrial standards that have never been used for commercial algae production for fuels in the US. Where are all the non-research US jobs that were supposed to be created?

    In a nutshell, the American taxpayer has paid for the technologies, and will pay foreign countries for the oil. It seems that we could have saved billions of dollars by not ever pursuing alternative fuel technologies .Let the other countries spend their money commercialization and deployment of our algae technologies while and the US will purchase our fuel from them. Maybe we should have spent the money teaching morals and ethics to our leaders, change legislation to prohibit lobbying, and pay lawyers to pursue those who have financially benefited from the debacle.


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