San Diego Just Beginning to Assess Needs of Emerging Algae Industry

5/8/09Follow @bvbigelow

Today is Algae Day plus 10 in San Diego. With all the enthusiasm expressed during the back-to-back events of April 28, I half-expected things would be greener by now.

But now the real work begins. The effort is to make San Diego—home of many biologists, entrepreneurs, and lots of sun—nationally recognized as a “big green cluster” of the latest green industry, algae biofuels. The latest local push made for a wall-to-wall green carpet of news coverage—from the Biocom breakfast panel discussion on algae-based biofuels to the midday UC San Diego news conference announcing the formation of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology (SD-CAB), to a three-hour Regional Algae Stakeholders’ Meeting in the afternoon. And then there were other events, such as the workshop organized by Prize Capital, to establish a $10 million prize competition for breakthroughs in algae biofuels.

Just two days ago, (Algae Day plus 8), Rick Halperin of San Diego’s regional algae initiative reprised many of the same events for can only be described as “Algae Day—The Sequel” in Imperial County. But now that the vision has been articulated to make San Diego a center of excellence in algal biotechnology—and a cleaner and greener industrial power in renewable energy—what happens next?

“The immediate outcome is that we’re well-prepared to respond to what the Department of Energy announced this week,” Steve Kay, UCSD’s dean of biological sciences and SD-CAB’s founding director told me yesterday.

On Tuesday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the DOE plans to invest close to $787 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka “the stimulus”) in advanced biofuel research, development, and test projects. The Department of Energy indicated that $480 million will go for 10 to 20 awards for pilot plants to validate integrated biorefinery technologies for producing advanced biofuels.

With U.S. capital markets still smoldering from the financial meltdown, the Department of Energy noted in its press release the $480 million is intended to enable private financing of commercial-scale replications of biorefineries—essentially removing the biggest financial risks by proving the technologies. The Department of Energy has designated … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Glenn Mosier

    San Diego and the Imperial Valley have everything it takes to make algae-based fuels commercially viable. On Wednesday I went on the 3 hour Imperial Valley Alternative Energy Bus Tour. The highlight was our visit to the SunEco Energy algae operation. The magnitude of what they are doing is impressive. The video on their website has some good shots of the 10-acre ponds which have been recently built or are under construction. These are in addition to the ponds which have been in existence for a couple of decades.

  • Elverna Turner

    This is an awful plan. Using Imperial Valley for algae-based fuel production would be removing land capable of food production much like the fatal flaw of corn & soybeans for ethanol. Why not grow algae in vertical columns, in closed systems, on land not capable of food crop production? They’re being too hasty at handing out the research dollars without fully examining the implications and options.

  • algaepreneur

    To learn more about the fast-track commercialization of the algae industry, you may want to check out this website: http://www.nationalalgaeassociation.com. They are the first algae trade association in the U.S.