In San Diego Talk, Venter Says Biofuels ‘Dead’ Without Carbon Policy

11/1/12Follow @bvbigelow

Blunt to the bone, human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter flatly declared in San Diego this week that algae-based biofuels “are just dead” unless the federal government sets an effective carbon policy.

“It doesn’t matter what the scientific breakthroughs are, there’s no way to beat oil,” Venter said after someone in the audience asked when advances in synthetic biology would begin to make an impact in energy. The question followed Venter’s 45-minute presentation on genomics and synthetic biology, a keynote talk that capped a two-day investor and partnering forum held in San Diego as part of the Seventh Annual Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa.

“Basically, if we don’t have a carbon policy, and an effective carbon policy soon, biofuels are just dead,” Venter said. He explained afterward that the pricing of petroleum-based fuels doesn’t reflect the overall costs that burning fossil fuels have on the environment, and the volatility of petroleum-based pricing undermines the viability of biofuels—at least as a relatively short-term venture investment. For example, natural gas prices have substantially declined in recent years with a boom in domestic natural gas production amid somewhat slower demand during the economic downturn.

“Oil’s not even an issue right now because of all the new natural gas discoveries,” Venter said. “So there’s no way economically for a new fuel made out of renewables to ever be able to compete with something an oil company can do, without sharp federal regulations and a carbon policy that says, ‘You can’t just keep taking carbon out of the ground, burning it and putting it in the atmosphere.’ Until we do that, there is no biofuel industry.”

Venter added that U.S. policy makers might come around if … 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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