July 30, 2009

J.B. Hunt Transport Services Signs Cooperative Agreement with Algal Oil Producer SunEco Energy

J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., one of the largest transportation logistics companies in North America, and algal oil producer SunEco Energy signed a cooperative agreement, which could lead to J.B. Hunt becoming a significant purchaser of biodiesel made from natural algae oil using SunEco Energy’s proprietary technology. J.B. Hunt runs about 10,000 tractors in its fleet, and burns some 100 million gallons of fuel per year.

The two companies conducted a series of successful tests using biodiesel made by SunEco Energy from 100% natural algae oil produced at the company’s pilot plant in Chino, California. These tests, using a 20% and 50% blend of algae biodiesel with petroleum diesel, measured an 82% reduction in particulate emissions with no loss of power compared to ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD).

The SunEco A-50 blend showed an opacity measurement of 2.5%, compared to the typical petroleum diesel opacity of 14%.

Finding alternative energy sources to put in our fuel tanks is good business for our company and our nation. SunEco’s innovative process to produce renewable fuel supplies from algae grown in American ponds is an intriguing new option. Our initial experience with their algae-based biodiesel is promising, and we are excited about the opportunity to work with SunEco Energy to move towards a lower cost, less carbon intensive, and more secure energy supply for our business.

—Gary Whicker, senior vice president of engineering for J.B. Hunt

SunEco’s proprietary technology utilizes naturally occurring algae strains in a monitored environment to produce an oil product suitable for making renewable transportation fuels and other oil-based products, and, as a byproduct of the process, a high-quality animal feed supplement. SunEco is currently raising additional funding to enable the large scale deployment of the technology in US and international markets, including a large development in the Imperial Valley region of California.

The initial commercial product to be produced by SunEco is a de-watered, de-gummed biocrude algal oil. This product is suitable to be refined into biodiesel or to be mixed up to 50% with petroleum products to produce renewable diesel. In a fully discounted model, using its proprietary technology for the growth and harvesting of native algae species in open ponds , SunEco claims it can currently produce at least 33,000 gallons of biocrude per acre-foot per year.

On its current acreage, at the present stage of cultivation without the implementation of all of its technology, the company expects yields of 40,000 gallons per day to be shipped to various biodiesel refineries in Southern California.

Once algae production is ramped up and permitting for on-site processing is completed in the fourth quarter of 2009, the major algal oil product to be produced will be SunEco straight vegetable oil (SVO), refined from biocrude at a 1:1 ratio resulting again in 33,000 gallons per acre-foot per year.

This product can be directly mixed with low sulfur petroleum diesel up to a ratio of 50% with an increase in lubricity and with no loss in BTUs or cetane and no change in cloud point. It can also be directly refined into a high-quality biodiesel meeting all of the specifications for ASTM B100 biodiesel.

The SunEco technology has been in development for more than five years, with an operating pilot facility over the past two years.

An algae alternative

Ignacio - The Southern Ute Indian Tribe's newest investment is going to make it some green.

Green algae, that is.

Solix Energy Inc. and the tribe unveiled the Coyote Gulch Demonstration Facility to a crowd of about 70 people Wednesday morning in what both hope becomes the oil producer of the future.

"When I first heard about it all I could do was say 'algae,'" Tribal Chairman Matthew Box said.

However, algae is just the thing that the tribe and its newest company, Southern Ute Alternative Energy, formed in 2008, want to look at investing in, Box said.

"We started to understand that our (tribal) government needed to sustain into the future, and we needed to have the ability to invest (in alternative energy)," Box said. "Natural gas was here, but more and more we realized relying on it indefinitely was not feasible."

The tribe has been talking with Solix since 2007, and the facility was a result of their talks.

The facility will grow the algae, and then Solix employees will harvest oil created from the algae. The algae create the oil through the process of photosynthesis.

After the oil is harvested, the product then is sent off to gas producers to experiment and perfect turning it into diesel.

The partnership between the two works because of the tribe's investments in alternative energy and also because Solix needed an investor, Solix Chief Executive Officer Doug Henston said.

"We were very excited when they ... told us that they wanted to be an operator in this," Henston said. "This is really the first step in a larger relationship that we hope has a global impact."

If Solix expands, the tribe's Southern Ute Alternative Energy will help to oversee that, said Rebecca Kauffman, president and chief operating officer of Southern Ute Alternative Energy.

Southern Ute Alternative Energy, a component of the tribe's Growth Fund, seeks investment opportunities in alternative energy that are technologically and economically sound. The environmentally friendly investments include opportunities in solar, wind, biomass, biofuels, carbon-capture and energy efficiency.

"We are analyzing different opportunities because not all green is good," Kauffman said. "There is still an impact to the land and the environment, and the mandate (from the tribe) is that it has to have a positive environmental impact overall."

The Solix algae operation is a pilot project, and the intention is to grow the plant if oil can be produced in sufficient quantity and quality for commercial use. Eventually, Solix expects to employ 20 workers.

"We are happy that we are partnered in this effort, and we would like to expand," Kauffman said.

The facility falls right in line with what the tribe is looking for, she said.

Not only does the facility yield oil, but it uses carbon dioxide released by the nearby natural-gas plants to create pure oxygen.

Box said he is excited to see where this facility takes the tribe - and the world - because it has applications beyond oil. It can yield other products such as facial creams, oxygen and food for animals.

"This is a step toward the future, and many who are here now will pass and won't be able to get to see the ... full extent this will hold," he said. "This really has so many more positives, and they are not just oils."

Those who attended the unveiling, including La Plata County commissioners Kellie Hotter and Joelle Riddle, thanked both Box and Henston for their efforts in alternative energy.

"We love having a tribe next to us that is leading the way, and we can only look to follow you," Riddle said to Box.

Kauffman said because the facility still is under construction she isn't sure of its final cost.

Jason Gonzales is a summer intern at the Herald.

Pilot facility to create fuel from algae opens

The Coyote Gulch algae-to-biofuels pilot facility — a first-of-its-kind project by Solix Biofuels Inc. and Southern Ute Alternative Energy — opened Wednesday outside of Durango.

Founded in 2006, Solix is a spin-off from research at Colorado State University seeking to create a commercially viable fuel from a bioreactor that grows algae in plastic bags.

The Coyote Gulch Demonstration Facility is slated to produce the equivalent of 3,000 gallons per acre per year of algal oil by late this year. The facility is located on two acres of Southern Ute tribal land.

July 29, 2009

Algae Oil Running in Big Rigs, With Small Emissions

Written by Jeff Kart

Pond scum just got an upgrade.

SunEco Energy is working with J.B. Hunt Transport Services, a leading transportation company, to run trucks on biodiesel mixed with algae oil.

SunEco says a blend of 20 percent and 50 percent algae oil with petroleum biodiesel has cut particulate emissions by 82 percent.

The algae is grown in ponds and produced at a SunEco pilot plant in Chino, California.

The company has been working on a proprietary process for making the oil for more than five years, and has scaled it up from beakers to barrels, according to Dan Gautschi, chairman and CEO. The process yields a high-quality animal feed supplement as a byproduct.

J.B. Hunt provides transportation services to customers in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The two companies have signed a cooperative agreement, which could lead to J.B. Hunt becoming a significant purchaser of biodiesel made from SunEco algae oil, officials say.

SunEco launched its first large scale project in California’s Imperial Valley, at a former fish farm near the town of Niland. The development sits on more than 350 acres of land, with 200 acres of ponds, and is under expansion.

Algae is an alternative feedstock when it comes to biodiesel, which is made mostly with soy oil in the United States. Production of biodiesel in the United States reached almost 500 million gallons in 2007, double the 2006 level, according to federal statistics.

(Image credits: SunEco and J.B. Hunt.)

Attorney Helps Algae Startups to See the Light of Day

By John Gartner - Matter Network

Putting the words "pond scum" and "lawyer" in the same sentence is no longer a slight; at least not if you're in the energy biz.

Attorney Todd Taylor has become expert in helping algae energy and other renewable energy startups to navigate the murky waters of becoming viable entities. Taylor, who has the unique title of "lead biomass shareholder in Fredrikson & Byron's Renewable Energy Group" in Minneapolis, has been active in the biofuel industry for more than a decade.

Taylor says his firm takes a "venture capital-like approach" to finding energy startups as potential clients. Fredrikson & Byron identifies promising young companies in renewable energy including wind and solar and advises them on negotiating contracts, obtaining financing, and finding industry partnerships.

By helping young companies -- often run by scientists with little business experience -- to become commercial successes, Taylor creates a stable of clients who'll keep coming back as they grow stronger. He counsels clients on how to find and secure financing, providing advice on questions such as "What should the terms be of $20 million investment?"

His long time in the industry and connections help Taylor to compare companies to existing technologies to determine if companies with good ideas can be commercially viable.

Taylor, who has no interest in being inside the courtroom, says he spends one-third of his day on business development for his firm and his clients. "I'm not a litigator. I'm a business attorney." One of the value-added services he provides is to connect startups with VCs and established industry players that are also Fredrikson & Byron clients.

Despite representing many of the Midwest's plethora of corn ethanol companies in the past and present, Taylor says he's "not naive about its drawbacks." He is currently working with lobbyists and the Algal Biomass Organization so that algae energy can have a fair shake in the marketplace.

"If you look at the (federal) renewable fuel standard, there is not fuel feedstock parity," Taylor says, pointing out that biofuel from algae doesn't receive the same treatment as more mature (and politically connected) industries

Taylor's mission also includes a strong component of education. To wit, he is chairing an all day seminar on August 18 on algae energy, entitled the "Fredrikson & Byron Midwest Algae Commercialization Conference."

As industries get increasingly specialized, the lawyers who represent them become equally as expert in their intricacies. Asking questions about other industry clients is wise, because as Taylor says, "You don't want to have a law firm that doesn't know your space."

John Gartner is Editor in Chief of Matter Network and an Industry Analyst for Pike Research

Exxon Embracing Algae Biofuels

Exxon Mobil has announced that they're jumping into the biofuel business. The oil giant is investing $600 million in researching algae-based biofuels that would capture CO2 and perform as well as oil-based fuels.

The company is teaming up with Synthetic Genomics Inc. to genetically engineer algae strains for testing. If the partners are successful in developing a greenhouse gas-capturing fuel, Exxon will then invest billions on the production of the fuel.

The company envisions placing the algae farms near power plants and other major CO2 emitters to feed the algae and to help curb the impact of those businesses. Exxon said they imagine a successful commercial production of an algae-based fuel could take up to a decade.

This venture isn't the company's first foray into carbon capture. In January, they announced they were spending $170 million on carbon capture projects at their natural gas plants. These projects are undoubtedly more financially driven than environmentally, but if the planet can benefit from their discoveries, it's worth paying attention.

via Wall Street Journal

J. B. Hunt commits to algae-based fuel

Finding alternative energy sources to put in our fuel tanks is good business for our company and our nation.” –Gary Whicker, senior vice president of engineering for trucking conglomerate J.B. Hunt Transport Services

It’s a surprise, to say the least, to see a trucking company the size of J.B. Hunt commit to burning significant amounts of algae-based biodiesel in its truck tanks. But that’s exactly what’s going to happen.


The carrier conducted a series of successful tests using biodiesel made by SunEco Energy; a fuel comprised of 100% natural algae oil produced at SunEco’s pilot plant in Chino, California. These tests, using a 20% and 50% blend of algae oil with petroleum diesel, measured an 82% reduction in particulate emissions with no loss of power.

“Producing renewable fuel supplies from algae grown in American ponds is an intriguing new option,” noted Gary Whicker, senior vice president of engineering for J.B. Hunt, in a press statement. “Our initial experience with their algae-based biodiesel is promising, and we are excited about the opportunity to work … towards a lower cost, less carbon intensive, and more secure energy supply for our business.”


I’ve talked about the potential for algae as a vehicle fuel stock in this space before – just last year in fact – but I didn’t think we’d be seeing it put through its paces in trucking this soon. And frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised that J.B. Hunt of all carriers is forging ahead with a plan to use algae-based biodiesel in its trucks, for this is a carrier long known for doing things differently – a hallmark of its late founder, Johnnie Bryan Hunt.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done – and by no means should algae be considered a “silver bullet” in the alternative fuel debate, at least not yet. As research firm Frost & Sullivan noted in a report earlier this year, the cost disadvantage of producing biofuels is significantly higher than the benefits achieved from their use right now – and this scenario is unlikely to change until 2015, even with the use of second generation biofuels.

“Second generation biofuels will be commercially successful only if the price of extracting biofuels is lower than or equal to the price of producing fossil fuels,” the firm noted in its report “Farming subsidies given by local governments are becoming critical as farmers choose biofuels over food crops. Countries with high biofuel consumptions, such as Sweden, are importing feedstock from countries like Brazil thereby increasing food prices. Vast areas of forest land have been erased in Malaysia by farmers wanting to make quick money by exporting feedstock to Europe.”


Challenges related to vehicle warranties are also dampening market prospects, as OEMs cannot offer any assurances or guarantees in the event of using high biofuels content, owing to the absence of certification and standardized vehicle testing guidelines, Frost & Sullivan added.

Still, it’s a landmark moment when a billion-dollar carrier decides to commit to biofuels on this scale despite dealing with the aftershocks of a freight market collapse – one brought on by one of the worst economic recessions in recent memory. And you know if Hunt is doing this now, they see a big payoff in the future – most likely when the cost of 100% pure diesel starts to rise to significant heights again, as it will one day surely do.

National Algae Association on Fast-Track Commercialization of the Algae Production Industry

THE WOODLANDS, TX -- (Marketwire) -- 07/29/09 -- National Algae Association is pleased to announce its next conference for commercialization of "Algae: The New Oil," which will be held on September 17-18, 2009, at the Sheraton North Houston. Early registration ends August 1, 2009!

Algae researchers, algae oil production companies, equipment companies and algaepreneurs will present leading-edge breakthroughs in the algae industry. Committed speakers and topics include: algae research update, changes to and status of the NAA's proposed college curriculum program, project financing by Stoel Rives LLP, harvesting by AlgaeVenture Systems, Mi-Kyung Kim from the Korean Phycology Society will discuss how to enhance microalgae, BARD LLC will present its harvesting system, and Alfa Laval will talk about its algae/water separation tests. Bayer Material Science will be presenting closed-loop algae photobioreactors using Makrolon polycarbonate, Schaefer Bio-Engineering, OriginOil and Cyclone Power Technologies will make presentations, Westar Trade Resources will walk us through the grant application process, Bruker Optics will discuss high-throughput bulk lipid content analysis in algae using TD-NMR technology without using chemicals, XL Renewables will discuss its open pond system, universities from Florida and Louisiana will present the results of their studies on the uses of algae already growing in the Gulf of Mexico, and, travel schedule permitting, a representative of Sandia Labs will update the presentation he made at our workshop in Orlando in June. Discussions will also include the Algaepreneur of the Year award guidelines.

Registration information is available at NAA's website, www.nationalalgaeassociation.com.


The algae production industry is moving at a fast pace and everyone is sensitive about lowering algae production costs. Buying power is one of the keys to the success of our industry. NAA is building a Buying Consortium to help its members DRIVE DOWN ALGAE PRODUCTION COSTS to build algae farms and production plants more cost efficiently. For information, contact us at info@nationalalgaeassociation.com.

National Algae Association
Email Contact

Exxon to Invest Millions to Make Fuel From Algae

The oil giant Exxon Mobil, whose chief executive once mocked alternative energy by referring to ethanol as “moonshine,” is about to venture into biofuels.

On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.

The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels.

Despite the widely publicized “moonshine” remark a few years ago by Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, Rex W. Tillerson, the company has spent several years exploring various fuel alternatives, according to one of its top research officials.

“We literally looked at every option we could think of, with several key parameters in mind,” said Emil Jacobs, vice president for research and development at Exxon’s research and engineering unit. “Scale was the first. For transportation fuels, if you can’t see whether you can scale a technology up, then you have to question whether you need to be involved at all.”

He added, “I am not going to sugarcoat this — this is not going to be easy.” Any large-scale commercial plants to produce algae-based fuels are at least 5 to 10 years away, Dr. Jacobs said.

Exxon’s sincerity and commitment will almost certainly be questioned by its most galvanized environmentalist critics, especially when compared with the company’s extraordinary profits from petroleum in recent years.

“Research is great, but we need to see new products in the market,” Kert Davies, the research director at Greenpeace, said. “We’ve always said that major oil companies have to be involved. But the question is whether companies are simply paying lip service to something or whether they are putting their weight and power behind it.”

But if it proves a bona fide effort, Exxon’s move into biofuels, long the preserve of venture capital firms and biotech start-ups, could provide a big push to the Obama administration’s policy of encouraging more renewable energy.

Currently, about 9 percent of the nation’s liquid fuel supply comes from biofuels — most of it corn-based ethanol. And by 2022, Congress has mandated that biofuel levels reach 36 billion gallons.

But developing biofuels has been tricky, and Mr. Tillerson has not been alone in his skepticism. Many environmental groups and energy experts have been critical of corn-derived ethanol, because of its lower energy content and questionable environmental record.

According to Exxon, algae could yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre of production each year, compared with 650 gallons for palm trees and 450 gallons for sugar canes. Corn yields just 250 gallons per acre a year.

Exxon’s partnership with Synthetic Genomics is also a vote of confidence in the work of Dr. Venter, a maverick scientist best known for decoding the human genome in the 1990s. In recent years, he has focused his attention on a search for micro-organisms that could be turned into fuel.

“Algae is the ultimate biological system using sunlight to capture and convert carbon dioxide into fuel,” Dr. Venter said.

Algal biofuel, sometimes nicknamed oilgae by environmentalists, is a promising technology. Fuels derived from algae have molecular structures that are similar to petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, and would be compatible with the existing transportation infrastructure, according to Exxon.

Continental Airlines, for example, has demonstrated the fuel’s viability in a test flight of an airplane powered in part by algae-based fuel.

The Pentagon has also been looking at alternative fuels, including algae, to reduce the military’s dependence on oil.

And while cost-effective mass production of algae has eluded researchers so far, it holds potential advantages over other sources of biofuels. Algae can be grown in areas not suited for food crops, using pools of brackish water or even farming them in seawater.

Algae also has another benefit, which could eventually help cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Like any plant, it needs carbon dioxide to grow. But Exxon and Synthetic Genomics hope to genetically engineer new strains of algae that can absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide — like that emitted by power plants, for example.

Exxon’s investment includes $300 million for in-house studies and “potentially more” than $300 million to Synthetic Genomics “if research and development milestones are successfully met,” Exxon said.

SunEco Energy and J.B. Hunt Algae Power Hits the Road

CHINO, Calif., July 29 /PRNewswire/ -- J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. (Nasdaq: JBHT) and SunEco Energy today announced the signing of a cooperative agreement, which could lead to J.B. Hunt becoming a significant purchaser of biodiesel made from natural algae oil using SunEco Energy's proprietary technology.

To view the multimedia assets associated with this release, please click http://news.prnewswire.com/viewrelease.aspx?STORY=MTA1

The two companies conducted a series of successful tests using biodiesel made by SunEco Energy from 100 percent natural algae oil produced at the company's pilot plant in Chino, California. These tests, using a 20 percent and 50 percent blend of algae oil with petroleum diesel, measured an 82 percent reduction in particulate emissions with no loss of power.

"Transportation fuel is virtually 100% oil-based," said Gary Whicker, senior vice president of engineering for J.B. Hunt. "Finding alternative energy sources to put in our fuel tanks is good business for our company and our nation. SunEco's innovative process to produce renewable fuel supplies from algae grown in American ponds is an intriguing new option. Our initial experience with their algae-based biodiesel is promising, and we are excited about the opportunity to work with SunEco Energy to move towards a lower cost, less carbon intensive, and more secure energy supply for our business."

"We are very pleased that J.B. Hunt, a leading transportation company, took the steps to test our fuel in their trucks and are taking further steps to become a leader in the use of renewable fuels," said Dan Gautschi, Chairman and CEO of SunEco Energy. "The SunEco technology has been in development for over five years, with an operating pilot facility over the past two years which has allowed us to continually produce barrels of oil rather than beakers, enabling us to provide oil for tests in a variety of applications."

SunEco's proprietary technology utilizes naturally occurring algae strains in a monitored environment to produce an oil product suitable for making renewable transportation fuels and other oil-based products, and, as a byproduct of the process, a high-quality animal feed supplement. SunEco is currently raising additional funding to enable the large scale deployment of the technology in U.S. and international markets, including a large development in the Imperial Valley region of California.

J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. focuses on providing safe and reliable transportation services to a diverse group of customers throughout the continental United States, Canada and Mexico. Utilizing an integrated, multimodal approach, J.B. Hunt provides capacity-oriented solutions centered on delivering customer value and industry-leading service.

SunEco Energy is committed to leading the deployment of commercially viable bio-products made from natural algae strains. The Company's primary objective is to deliver reliable clean and sustainable energy products for transportation fuels and livestock feed, thus breaking the trade-off between food or fuel. Looking forward, the company intends to expand its product range to include a full scope of uses currently obtained from petroleum, such as, plastics, inks and dyes, as well as nutri-ceuticals.

Algae Can Save the World From Global Warming While Producing Biofuel

Scientists at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom are conducting research into ways to use algae to not only remove global warming-causing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but also in the synthesis of new biofuels that do not compete with food production.

Algae is being eagerly investigated for its ability to remove vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, turning it into oxygen. It was this process that originally led to the creation of the Earth's current atmospheric composition and allowed for life as we know it. It was also the decomposition of algae on the ocean floor that eventually led to many of today's existing petroleum deposits.

"So we are harvesting sunshine directly using algae, then we are extracting that stored energy in the form of oil from the alga and then using that to make fuels and other non-petroleum based products," said Steve Skill of Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Plymouth scientists are not the only ones working on turning algae into viable fuel. Companies trying to get into the game include Sapphire Energy, Origin Oil, BioCentric Energy and PetroAlgae. Japan Airlines has already test-flown a plane fueled with a combination of biofuels (some derived from algae) and conventional jet fuel.

Part of the appeal of algae biofuel is the same as that of other biofuels -- because plants absorb carbon dioxide while they grow, they are thought to make up for the carbon dioxide emissions when fuels derived from them are burned. Algae has the added benefit of growing well in places unsuitable for human food production, this making it less likely to affect food prices as corn-derived ethanol has been accused of doing. It also grows 20-30 times faster than most food crops.

Scientists from Plymouth and elsewhere are also investigating algae for its ability to absorb the carbon dioxide given off by the burning of fossil fuels. Brazilian company MPX Energia is already planning to start using algae to capture emissions from a coal plant as soon as 2011.

July 28, 2009

Council give OK to algae demo plant purchase

CARLSBAD — In a unanimous vote, the Carlsbad City Council approved the purchase of a demonstration plant totaling $625,000 for the extraction of oil from algae.

In March, the city entered into an agreement with Carlsbad-based Center for Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management (CEHMM) to serve as fiscal agent in the administration of a grant obtained from CEHMM from the New Mexico Energy Innovation Fund totaling $1.1 million.

Doug Lynn, CEHMM executive director, said that the city stepped up to the plate as the fiscal agent for the state funds without asking for overhead to manage the grant. He said two government entities — which he did not name — had offered to serve as fiscal agent but wanted 40 percent in overhead.

Lynn said CEHMM sought the services of vendors to provide the technologies and equipment necessary to extract oil from algae. He said eight vendors from around the world were contacted, but only one vendor, SRS Company, met the criteria and was able to demonstrate extraction of oil from algae, as well as make biodiesel from it.

"We sent algae oil samples to the Netherlands, Denmark, and all over our nation. It all came back to one company, SRS. The other companies told us that SRS exceeded what they could do, and we agreed," Lynn told city leaders.

The system to be built by SRS will be used to dewater and extract oil from algae at the CEHMM facility located at the New Mexico State University Agriculture Experimental Station located north of the city.

Greg Brown, CEHMM business manager, said without the demonstration plant, the city of Carlsbad and CEHMM would not be able to meet the requirements of the Energy Innovation Funds from the state. He added that the particular requirement is to produce 200 gallons of biodiesel.

"The requirement is that we have to have a vertically integrated bio refinery and we have to grow the algae, harvest it and extract it," Lynn explained.

Brown told the council that the system CEHMM is proposing to purchase is the only system that it has found to meet its oil extraction needs.

The algae CEHMM grows in its demonstration ponds at the agriculture experimental station is smaller than a human red blood cell and require special equipment for the oil extraction process.

Lynn assured city leaders that CEHMM will continue to be based in Carlsbad and that algae to oil production, when it is commercialized, will remain a part of Carlsbad's business climate.

"We believe the bi-products from oil could be even bigger than the oil for fuel," Lynn said. "Our goal is to maximize everything we can to try to bring more jobs to Carlsbad. We don't plan to leave Carlsbad. All 22 of our current employees are from Carlsbad."

Lynn said he hopes to have the demonstration plant equipment on site by the first week in September and extracting oil from algae shortly thereafter.

OriginOil Announces New Process For Live Algae Oil Extraction

OriginOil, Inc. (OriginOil) has succeeded in extracting algae oil on a continuous basis without cell sacrifice. This new milking process will join the company’s Cascading Production technique to create a combined cycle promising new efficiencies. Live Extraction, or milking achieves continuous production of algae oil without destroying the algae cell. Therefore a single algae cell can produce more oil during its lifetime using lower amounts of energy.

Unlike other approaches to live extraction, OriginOil’s process does not employ expensive consumables such as reverse osmosis membranes; furthermore, it is not limited to oil-bearing algae strains, such as Botryococcus braunii, that are known to excrete algae oil naturally.

Algae typically protect their oil behind a tough cell wall. The challenge of live extraction is to harvest the oil without causing permanent damage to the cell. This goal has been achieved in the laboratory at bench scale and is now being scaled up to OriginOil’s intermediate 200-gallon tank size.

The company recently filed for patent protection of the new Live Extraction process, its ninth patent application, entitled “Procedure for Extraction of Lipids from Algae without Cell Sacrifice.” “Live Extraction works by stimulating the algae cells through specific electrical modulations,” Riggs Eckelberry, OriginOil’s chief executive officer, said. “The challenge is how to keep the cells alive while continuously extracting the oil, and we have achieved this.”

“We are pleased with the results we are getting from conventional harvesting,” said Vikram Pattarkine, PhD, OriginOil’s CTO. “We expect the new Live Extraction process to coexist with our daily ‘destructive’ process to create an even more efficient combined cycle.”

Aside from any production gains, combining the two processes is desirable because algae cultures must be refreshed regularly to remove waste toxins. Cascading Production supports Live Extraction by removing a percentage of the culture every day, refreshing the environment and giving the algae culture space to grow.

Following Exxon Mobil’s recent announcement of a $600 million investment in San Diego- based Synthetic Genomics, Paul Reep, senior technical adviser and one of the inventors, noted: “Live lipid extraction is especially beneficial when used with algae that have been genetically engineered for faster growth rate or higher lipid yields. By integrating Live Extraction into our process, we are providing a technology platform for companies like Synthetic Genomics that are experimenting with genetic improvements.”

Carbonics Acquires Rights to Algae Bioreactor Technologies

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Carbonics Capital Corporation (OTC Bulletin Board: CICS) is pleased to announce that it has entered into an exclusive license with GreenShift Corporation (OTC Bulletin Board: GERS) for use of its algae bioreactor technologies in municipal and industrial applications excluding ethanol production.

GreenShift’s patented and patent-pending bioreactor technologies rely on thermophillic cyanobacteria (among other organisms) to consume carbon dioxide emissions and to produce carbon-neutral products. The organisms use the available carbon dioxide in the emissions and water to grow and give off oxygen and water vapor. The organisms also absorb nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. All photosynthetic organisms need a supply of carbon dioxide, light, a growth media and water with nutrients to live and grow. GreenShift’s bioreactor technologies have the potential to reduce the costs and technical barriers to managing the flow resources into, through and out of the bioreactor in a compact and cost-efficient way as compared to other algae bioreactor technologies.

Carbonics’ wholly-owned subsidiary, Sustainable Systems, Inc., was awarded a $375,000 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce Research and Commercialization Technology program and is pursuing additional funding to apply toward this project to move this technology forward.

“While certain engineering hurdles must be overcome, we remain excited about this technology and its applications to manage carbon dioxide emissions while creating raw material for value added products,” stated Dr. Paul Miller, president and chief executive officer. In addition, Dr. Miller stated, “Our development team’s assessment of the algae production state of the art suggests that this is a practical closed system technology deployable on a large scale. What is unique about this technology is that we retain a high level of control of the environmental conditions within the system and we believe we can tailor the conditions for the production of biomass-derived chemicals and other products that can have commercial values greatly exceeding fuel.”

David Winsness, GreenShift’s Chief Technology Officer, added that “GreenShift is exclusively focused on the commercialization needs of its patent-pending extraction technologies. While we originally acquired our bioreactor technologies with a long-term goal of developing applications capable of integrating into corn ethanol plants, these technologies have many other applications. The Carbonics team has the ability to evaluate and develop those applications, and to manage the continued evolution of our bioreactor technologies.”

Under the terms of the license agreement, Carbonics will pay GreenShift ten percent of the pre-tax net income derived from the use of the technology or derived from the sale, sublicense or lease of technology related equipment. In addition, while GreenShift shall retain ownership of all improvements that Carbonics may develop, and the right to use any such improvements in GreenShift’s ethanol applications, Carbonics shall retain the right to use those improvements under the license agreement.

About Carbonics Capital Corporation

Carbonics Capital Corporation (OTCBB: CICS) was founded to facilitate decarbonization in ways that cost-effectively capitalize on the evolving carbon markets.

A Cagey Bet On Clean Tech

BURLINGAME, CALIF. -- David Berry, the young, MIT-trained co-founder of biofuel company LS9, is making another play at the crowded "clean-technology" market. But he's keeping mum about exactly how his futuristic new technology will work.

Berry's Joule Biotechnologies, based in Cambridge, Mass., and backed by his investment firm, Flagship Ventures, is officially launching Monday. Yet it's not entirely clear how the company aims to meet its lofty goals of creating a "path to energy independence" and producing ethanol without using any agricultural land, natural feedstocks or fresh water. (The availability of some of those resources has been a problem for other biofuel companies.)

Joule says it has developed a new process called "Helioculture," which captures sunlight in a solar converter. There, the light interacts with "highly engineered, photosynthetic organisms to catalyze the conversion" of sunlight and carbon-dioxide--a gas which Joule says it can, conveniently, take off the hands of traditional power plants. This all creates "usable transportation fuels and chemicals." Joule won't say what the organisms are, except that they're not algae. Some start-ups have been trying to eke biofuel out of algae, with limited success so far.

The firm won't even disclose how much venture capital it's raised, though Chief Executive Bill Sims allows that it's "well less than $50 million."

Sims says "plenty of capital" will be required to build out Joule's infrastructure. But the start-up could work out joint ventures with other companies, such as carbon-dioxide emitters, to help with cash and access to land. Joule can build out its solar structures on non-agricultural land, Sims notes, and even on places like building rooftops. Berry and Sims say the firm should be able to sell its fuel commercially by late 2011 or 2012 at a competitive price.

It all sounds almost too good to be true. And it may be, particularly as the credit crunch squeezes many capital-intensive, clean-tech firms and makes it harder for risky, scientifically ambitious start-ups like Joule to get off the ground.

But Berry is a big brain: He has a Ph.D. from MIT's Biological Engineering Division and also found time to earn a degree from Harvard Medical School. He co-founded LS9 in 2005 and helped it raise cash from Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners, in addition to Flagship, where Berry is a partner.

He says Joule combines "the best of solar" with the "best of biology." In the best of investing environments, it could be a winner. But in today's choppy markets, Joule may have a harder slog--even if its technology truly is groundbreaking.

Photosynthesis + algae = fuel

A company with a facility in Coyote Gulch on Southern Ute Indian tribal land is working to harness the properties of pond scum into the next big thing in biofuels.

"We are growing algae and producing oil," Solix Biofuels Inc.'s Chief Executive Officer Douglas Henston said in a telephone interview. "However, we are not yet producing a usable product, because the algae have to be at a certain density."

Henston said the algae needs a suitable amount of time to grow, and only one of the three tanks at the Solix site has algae at the moment.

"It's just a function of time," he said. "We are looking to have all three tanks saturated (with algae) at the end of August or the end of September."

The algae then will begin producing oil through the process of photosynthesis. The Coyote Gulch facility, Henston said, is perfect for that process because of the amount of sun the region receives.

Once the company is able to harvest a suitable amount of oil, Solix then will ship it to oil companies to be tested for commercial use.

"We are using the oil that the algae create for diagnostic purposes right now," Henston said. "Our commercial partners are testing it to see how suitable it is in different (fuel) conversions."

It's only a matter of time before it is ready for commercial use, Henston said, and when that happens, Solix will be creating the "second generation" of biofuels.

First-generation biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, have higher prices and are volatile. The problem with ethanol, especially, is that it takes land and water that previously went to food production. The algae facility uses only the sun, water and carbon dioxide.

Henston said Solix estimates the facility can produce 2,000 to 2,500 gallons per acre per year. The company said it wants to employ a total of 20 workers at the facility.

Henston said he doesn't know when the integration of algae-created oil will hit the market, but he hopes it will be soon.

"We hope that the transition of the platform to a large-scale, commercial production is right around the corner," he said.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe could not be reached for comment.

More Algae Action: OriginOil Plans to ‘Milk’ Algae for Oil

Really, what is it with algae all of a sudden?

The algae are next

OriginOil, based in Los Angeles, just announced another potential breakthrough in getting oil from pond scum. One big difference from the spate of recent announcements in the algae-sphere: Origin’s new technology promises a better way to “milk” algae to extract their natural oils.

The upshot is that Origin uses electrical pulses to get at the oil inside algae without killing them, leaving them alive to produce more oil. Other processes rely on “harvesting” the algae, extracting the oil, then waiting for a fresh batch of algae to grow. Origin plans to merge the two methods—culling part of the algae and milking part of it.

The company says it is a low-tech and thus lower cost solution than other ideas that have been making the rounds. Most of those rely on genetically-engineering algae to excrete hydrocarbon-like liquids. And cost is still a huge issue for algae-to-oil operations, even if the cavalry is coming in the form of more government goodies.

Not that Origin is averse to jumping on the genetic-engineering bandwagon: “Live lipid extraction is especially beneficial when used with algae that have been genetically engineered for faster growth rate or higher lipid yields,” said Paul Reep, one of the technology’s inventors.

Algae Biofuels Measurement with Raman-Specific Spectrometer

2009-07-28 - Bay Spec, a leader in affordable spectral engines for bio-chemical identification, has shipped a Raman-specific 1064 nanometres spectrometer designed for measuring micro-Algae, a promising future source of renewable biomass oilcrop biofuels. The new Raman Spectrometer resolves fluorescence issues seen at lower wavelengths: While algal oil is similar to other vegetable oils in terms of fatty acid composition, the oil productivity of microalgae, on an annual per-acre basis, could potentially provide hundred times greater yield than soy and ten times greater yield than oil palm. Utilising the US American sensing company's Nunavut 1064 nanometres designed system, researchers were able to overcome issued with fluorescence seen at lower wavelengths.

Microalgae producing oils can be converted into biodiesel, thus promising a viable fuel to help solve the global energy crisis. However, despite the recent booming of research on microalgae, until now research has not benefited from modern high-throughput, high-resolution, real-time, and in vivo biophysical techniques.

Traditionally, these microalgae were treated in bulk, lyophilised or in extracted forms, making it impossible to assess the information on fundamental biological processes in the single-cell or sub-cellular level. Utilising the new 1064 nanometres Raman spectrometer, in situ, in vivo and label-free Raman characterisations of modelled algal lipids are made, extracted algal oil, and most importantly, single living algae. Studies have demonstrated a label-free and direct method to obtain quantitative information of chain length and degree of unsaturation of the oil produced inside algae. It also connects with the important issues of the cloud point and the quality of algal biodiesel. Single-cell, real-time, and in vivo study of algae, with various lipid-triggering mechanisms, enables the possibility of researching and engineering of the best conditions and the best species for algal growth and oil production.

Really Green Fuel: The EPA Opens the Door to Algae

Forget the summer of love. This is truly turning into the summer of algae.

More advanced than it appears.

The renewable energy and law blog of Stoel Rives LLP, a big law firm in the western U.S, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency will count algae as an advanced biofuel under Renewable Fuel Standard rules being developed. The EPA is said to be encouraged by recent interest in algae by heavyweights such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical.

Biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, sugar-cane ethanol and even biodiesel were envisioned in the RFS – but algae was absent.

Why do EPA’s steps towards including algae matter? Because when Congress created its mandate to blend advanced biofuel into the fuel pool, it created a big market for these fuels. By 2012, the law mandates that two billion gallons of these advanced biofuels be blended, a figure that rises by tenfold by 2022. It’s all in Section 202 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

If EPA decides that algae should be included, that creates a big opening for companies such as Sapphire Energy similar to the opening for cellulosic ethanol makers such as Verenium Corp. For algae to be included, the law says it needs to have no more than 50% of the “lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions” of gasoline and diesel. This could be tricky, says David Woodburn, an alternative energy analyst with ThinkEquity. “The hard part for me is understanding how the EPA plans to calculate the GHG emissions of algae fuels, based on the variety of feedstocks (sugar, CO2, other), processes (open ponds, photobioreactors), and algae varieties being explored – especially before November,” he says, noting when the rules are supposed to be finished.

The inclusion of algae is potentially good news for Exxon, which recently said it would invest up to $600 million in a venture with Synthetic Genomics to study ways to turn algae into a crude-like oil. Without the EPA’s blessing, the volumes of oil that might one day be generated by this effort ironically wouldn’t have counted as advanced biofuels.

And, whoever said the federal bureaucracy isn’t responsive? In mid-July, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, critiqued in-the-works Renewable Fuel Standard rules by pointed out that algae-based fuels “have no home in” them. He argued that the government shouldn’t “pick winners.”

Three days later, EPA official Sarah Dunham speaking at a National Academy of Sciences panel praised algae and said it would be included in the final rules, according to Stoel Rives, which cited InsideEPA.com, a subscription based news service. A copy of her presentation wasn’t readily available. If someone has a copy, please pass it along and we’ll post a link.

Now, will algae also qualify under Internal Revenue Service rules for the $1.01 gallon credit?

Joule Biotechnologies Seeks to One-Up Algae

This decade has seen the passing of scores, if not hundreds of startups claiming to have the fix for our petroleum dependence. So far, not a single one has proved competitive with gasoline or diesel fuel. So it’s not unreasonable to be cautious of the latest, Joule Biotechnologies, a company that says it will be producing fuel for around $50 per barrel (with government incentives) a couple years out.

Joule is at least evidence of a changing of the technological guard, though. Instead of relying on chemical conversion of biomass (corn, palm oil, wood and so forth), the company, which just emerged from stealth mode, focuses on synthetic biology. They claim to have biongineered an organism that uses photosynthesis to produce fuel. Just add sunlight and water.

In keeping with its sun-powered status, the system will look a bit like solar panels. The microorganism will be encased behind protective glass, probably to prevent outside contamination. A field of panels would funnel fuel to a central repository. According to the company, an acre of them will produce about 20,000 gallons of fuel a year, about ten times better than an acre of corn converted to ethanol.

The basic idea isn’t too far off from algae grown in closed bioreactors, but Joule, while remaining very secretive about exactly what it has, says it’s not working with algae. So maybe it’s a modified bacteria — an E Coli Frankenstein, perhaps, given new parts that cause it to split water to create hydrogen, which can then be combined with varying amounts of carbon and oxygen to create complex hydrocarbons.

The key to whether the idea works or not is whether this mystery microorganism can be kept functioning smoothly. Bioreactors are, unfortunately, quite expensive. That fact, combined with the difficulty of separating out the oil they produce, has kept algae from being a viable source for fuel. Joule can’t do anything to make glass and metal cheaper, so one of their major innovations has to be figuring out how to open a spout in the side of their bioreactor panel and drain off fairly pure fuel.

At the same time, they’ll be draining other substances, too. Taking another page from the algae playbook, Joule says it’s going to produce chemicals that it can sell separately from the fuel. There are plenty of chemicals that go for much higher prices than transportation fuel does, so this detail could be the other linchpin holding the economic plan together. But every added byproduct also adds another layer of complexity.

But while Joule is working to get all these details right — it says it will be producing at fairly significant scales in 2011 — expect more companies like it to pop up. Synthetic biology is the new frontier of green technology; in fact, the few details available on Joule bear more than a passing resemblance to what Craig Venter, a biotech celebrity, plans to do in a joint venture between his company, Synthetic Genomics, and Exxon. Just without the algae.

A New Entrant In Algae: Targeted Growth

Cyanobacteria need help.

Cyanobacteria, or blue green algae, are not incredibly oily. Only about 5 percent to 10 percent of their body mass in a natural state consists of lipids, which can be turned into biofuel, according to Margaret McCormick, general manager of the biobased materials unit at Targeted Growth. By contrast, some species of Botryococcus can achieve a lipid content of up to 70 percent to 80 percent after genetic engineering.

Cyanobacteria, though, has definite advantages. One, it grows fast. Two, years of genetic research exists.

"The strains have been sequenced and the genetic tools exist to manipulate their genome," she said.

To that end, Targeted, one of the leaders in genetic research, is trying to boost the oil content. It has already created versions of cyanobacteria with 20 percent to 40 percent of their mass in lipid. Next year, it hopes to show that it can produce this type of algae in large enough quantities to support a pilot manufacturing facility. Ideally, Targeted will be able to show that its algae can produce 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of oil a year per acre and show a pathway to get to 4,000 to 6,000 gallons an acre a year. (UC Berkeley's Henrik Scheller by the way puts the maximum amount of oil that algae can produce at 4,385 gallons per acre. That is high for a fuel crop, but its far lower than some claims in the algae industry.).

The company likely won't make fuel itself. Instead, it would partner with a fuel producer. Targeted could potentially work with companies growing algae through sunlight or fermentation, she said. Targeted is also looking at ways to milk, rather than kill, algae. It all depends on how the algae will get processed downstream.

Targeted has already been working at maximizing camelina for fuel production, an oily plant that grows on marginal lands and is poisonous to humans.

Claflin hopes to grow algae for fuel source

By Gene Zaleski, The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg, S.C.

ORANGEBURG, SOUTH CAROLINA: A Claflin University spin-off is nearing the completion of its study into the feasibility of developing an alternative fuel plant and research park.

Organic Bio-Energy Inc., a Claflin spin-off, and Greer-based Green Energy Partners joined together in April 2008 to study the feasibility of building a $75 million, 35-acre biofuel plant/research park at the John W. Matthews Industrial Park at the corner of U.S. 176 and U.S. 301.

Now the outstanding question remains: Will the project become reality?

Dr. Rebecca Bullard-Dillard hopes so. She's Organic Bio-Energy's vice president for research and chair of the Claflin biology department.

"At present, all parties are enthusiastic and working toward bringing the project to fruition if the final decision is a 'go,'" Bullard-Dillard said. "Alternative energies are going to have to emerge if we are going to meet the demands of our economy.

"The ability to participate in that opening global market for the county of Orangeburg would be a very significant occurrence."

The feasibility study is 95 percent complete, she said.

In addition to Claflin, the Orangeburg County Development Commission and park developers would all be partners in the project, Bullard-Dillard said.

She declined to give details on discussions or specifics about the project's park developers.

OCDC Executive Director Gregg Robinson also declined to comment on, "projects we may or may not be working on."

"We have some exciting green energy opportunities that are considering Orangeburg County," Robinson said. "We are working with Claflin University and I am excited about the technology coming out of one of our great institutions."

The county has continued to look for ways to tap into alternative fuel possibilities, Robinson said.

"We are trying to do our best to bridge the gap between agriculture and advanced science," he said.

"We see this as the future of research and it is critical we make a contribution in this area," said Vivian Glover, Claflin University assistant vice president for communications.

Bullard-Dillard hopes to see a ground-breaking in early 2010 with operations starting in the summer of 2011.

When operational, the annual output would be 4 million gallons of synthetic biodiesel, 1 million gallons of biobutanol in the first stage of the process and 44 megawatts of electricity.

The university estimates the project could create 100 jobs over a five-year period from agricultural workers to loggers.

Bullard-Dillard declined comment on specific companies engaged in the project due to contractual arrangements.

One of the processes that will be examined will be algae propagation. Algae can extract carbon dioxide from exhaust and convert it to sugars via photosynthesis. About two tons of algae can remove one ton of carbon dioxide.

Once the algae are harvested, they can be converted to ethanol or biodiesel.

The site could also include other alternative energy projects, such as biofuel production facilities that will use cellulosic materials as feedstock.

Claflin's project received an $180,000 grant through the S.C. Department of Agriculture and the S.C. Energy Office in April 2008. Despite constitutional questions related to the passage of a renewable energy grant benefiting the project, it is still moving forward.

In June 2008, Greenville businessman Edward "Ned" Sloan successfully argued that the grants measure was a part of a bill that addressed a slew of unrelated items. Sloan said the energy grants were bobtailed onto a bill having to do with job tax credits.

The S.C. Supreme Court struck down more than $2 million in renewable energy grants previously approved across the state.

But fortunately for Bio-Energy Inc. and GEP, an appellate court reviewed the matter and decided the first two rounds of grant funding -- of which the Orangeburg County project was a part -- could go through.

ExxonMobil invests in biofuels made from algae

With oil companies as BP and Shell already well invested in solar, biofuels and wind – BP, for example, just announced it has moved into full construction of a second phase of the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm in Indiana – ExxonMobil’s decision to launch a biofuels program comes as no surprise.

“Meeting the world’s growing energy demand will require a multitude of technologies and energy sources”, said Dr. Emil Jacobs, vice president of research and development at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company. “We believe that biofuels produced by algae could be a meaningful part of the solution in the future if our efforts result in an economically viable, low net carbon emission transportation fuel”.

In a coalition with leading biotech company Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI), Exxon expects to spend more than $600 million in increasing the scale of algae production as well as the manufacturing of finished fuels.

“The real challenge to creating a viable next generation biofuel is the ability to produce it in large volumes which will require significant advances in both science and engineering”, said Dr. J. Craig Venter, CEO of SGI.

Big Algae?

Ed. Note: This article first appeared on Geoffrey Styles' blog, Energy Outlook.

Different types of algae are growing in the Colorado State University Engines Lab. The lab is testing this algae to see which will produce the best oil derivative. Photo by Sherri Barber: AP

Different types of algae are growing in the Colorado State University Engines Lab. The lab is testing this algae to see which will produce the best oil derivative. Photo by Sherri Barber: AP

In spare moments during the last week I've been mulling over the implications of ExxonMobil's announcement of a very large investment in research and development on producing biofuels from algae, in collaboration with a leading biotech firm, Synthetic Genomics, Inc. While the reported figure of $600 million wouldn't buy much in the way of actual deployment, it could sure pay for a heck of a lot of R&D. The joint conference call about the announcement emphasized that the companies will be pursuing several possible technological pathways, though all appear to be focused on producing biofuel from algae continuously, rather than in a batch mode more analogous to farming. That would certainly increase the attractiveness for Exxon, which after all operates some of the world's biggest continuous production processes, in the form of its oil & gas fields, refineries, and chemical plants. The timing of this announcement is also interesting, coming just a few weeks after the US House of Representatives passed the first cap & trade bill to make it through either chamber of Congress.

The fundamental question I've been pondering is "why"? Why algae, and why ExxonMobil? For all of algae's enormous potential to produce large quantities of useful fuel, skepticism that this could ever be done economically on a useful scale abounds. And until now, Exxon had made a virtue of avoiding investments in renewable energy, generally seeing them as delivering returns well below those of the large oil & gas projects that have earned Exxon a sterling reputation for capital discipline. The answer to both questions likely resides in a word that appears frequently in the press release, in news coverage of the announcement, and in the press conference: scale. Two aspects of scale are relevant, here. First, in order to contribute meaningfully to our energy and climate problems, an alternative energy technology must be capable of being scaled up rapidly to a level comparable to today's oil, gas and coal industries. Current biofuels, solar power and wind still don't come close to matching the energy delivery of conventional sources. Exxon's website indicates potential liquid yields from algae of 2,000 gallons per acre, presumably in the form of the hydrocarbon-based "biocrude" emphasized repeatedly in the press conference. Even that relatively conservative estimate--my own back-of-the-envelope upper-bound estimate was 6,000 gal./acre--is at least ten times the current US yield of corn ethanol, after adjusting for energy content. Simplistically, if the acreage currently devoted to growing corn for ethanol were devoted to oil-excreting algae, it could replace nearly 60% of our gasoline supply from crude oil, rather than the 5% or so we get from ethanol.

Scale is also crucial for a firm of Exxon's size. A report in today's Wall St. Journal caught my eye. Occidental Petroleum announced its discovery of a 200 million barrel onshore oilfield in the middle of one of the most mature oil provinces in the world, in the San Joaquin Valley of California. I know that territory very well from my oil trading days, and it's an exciting development. However, Exxon is so big that it must find the equivalent of 8 such fields every year, just to stay even with its production. When I listen to the way Exxon describes its algae investment, I get the distinct sense that it views this arrangement as analogous to a very large oil exploration project, one that would be material to the results of the largest oil SuperMajor--and perhaps with similar odds of success. Now, it would be meaningless and of no value to Exxon if algae could produce the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of oil, but at a cost of $1,200/bbl. Exxon appears to be convinced that algae can contribute at a price very close to today's hydrocarbons, and probably without subsidies, knowing the firm's distaste for them. That has implications beyond algae.

In the conference call, Exxon's VP of R&D indicated that the company had assessed all of the advanced biofuels technologies and concluded that algae offered the best hope for producing fuels that would compete economically, with acceptable environmental impacts. That says something very worrying about the near-term prospects for cellulosic ethanol and the other "second-generation" biofuels technologies on which companies such as BP, Shell, and many others have pinned their hopes. Indeed, the US Congress pinned the whole country's hopes on the prompt commercialization of these unproven technologies in the remarkably ambitious national Renewable Fuels Standard they enacted in late 2007. If Exxon has concluded correctly that algae--which faces many serious hurdles of its own--is the best bet, then the entire US alternative fuels strategy could be in trouble.

There is also another way to look at this announcement. Exxon has been under enormous pressure to take a big stake in renewable energy. I vividly recall a Congressional hearing last year when committee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) berated and belittled the Exxon representative for doing so little in this area. More recently, an environmental group took out full page ads targeting Exxon's opposition to cap & trade. I can't find the ad on the internet, but it said something like, "Poor Exxon, all alone in opposing Waxman-Markey." That has to get old, even for Exxon.

Could the algae tie-up with Synthetic Genomics, with its impressive expenditures contingent on achieving a series of unspecified milestones, be intended mainly to get this particular monkey off their backs? I doubt it, even though all the other advanced biofuel technologies being touted by their promoters also involve a substantial element of PR, until they actually produce commercial outcomes. If Exxon merely wanted to create some "green cred", it could have taken the same money and bought a dozen bankrupt corn ethanol plants or a few medium-sized wind farms. If the Exxon/Synthetic Genomics collaboration is about making Exxon greener, then it is certainly doing it the Exxon way, investing in something that, if successful, would neatly and profitably slot into their existing business model--and by the way into the hundreds of existing refineries and hundreds of millions of internal combustion engine vehicles globally. It's probably too early to imagine Big Oil becoming Big Algae, but the possibilities have obvious appeal, apparently even for the world's most successful oil company.

Targeted Growth Boosts Algae Yield

Targeted Growth, the Seattle-based developer of renewable fuels and high-yield agricultural products, said today that its scientists have found a way to boost the amount of lipid content by 400 percent in cyanobacteria, which it says could increase the oil yield from algae enough to make it competitive on price with conventional petroleum. The company and its collaborators have identified and tested every active gene in cyanobacteria, and added some new genes, to create a strain of algae that produces higher oil yields. Targeted Growth, which was profiled last week in Xconomy, says it has filed multiple patent applications on the high-yield strain of algae.

For more tech stories visit Xconomy.com/seattle.

State Editorial Rdp

By The Associated Press © 2009 The Associated Press

Austin American-Statesman on the Texas budget:

The old caution about looking gift horses in the mouth doesn't apply in politics. Gov. Rick Perry, for example, saddles up and rides away after looking in the horse's mouth and complaining loudly about what he sees there.

During the session, the all-GOP legislative leadership team would grudgingly admit that if it weren't for the federal government's stimulus money, Texas budget cuts would have been wide and deep.

But that didn't keep the governor and others from criticizing Washington for its wasteful ways. At one point, Perry mentioned secession in stoking up an anti-tax crowd.

It was tough talk but as is usually the case in politics, the gap between rhetoric and reality was as wide as the gap between the state's income and demands for services. Without the federal assistance, Texas would be in a tough financial fix.

According to a report released last week by the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislators, Texas led other states in using stimulus money to plug the holes in its 2010 budget. The stimulus that the governor reviled on stump helped Texas legislators avoid tax increases and kept them from reaching into the state's rainy day fund.

According to the report, federal money provided 96.7 percent of funds required to close Texas' budget gaps, the highest of any of the states. Nebraska came in second at 88 percent.

The percentage might have been even higher had not the governor quite ostentatiously turned down federal money to bolster the hard-hit Texas Unemployment Insurance Fund. Republicans in the legislature urged him to take the money in the face of rising unemployment claims that were fast draining the funds. Like Horatius, Perry stood firm on the bridge. Then.

Now, he's budging a little but still defiant. His commentary on this page speaks for itself. Texas employers will see an increase in taxes and state government will have to ask the feds for a loan to keep the unemployment insurance fund afloat, the governor writes. He nonetheless defends the decision to turn down the stimulus money.

The governor reminds us of people who complain about an obnoxious table companion whose volume is exceeded only by bad table manners. But what the heck, he picks up the tab.

Anyone who can read knows by now that Perry's derisive use of the word "Washington" is a double shot: one aimed at Democrats in general and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, in particular. Hutchison has announced that she will challenge Perry in the March 2010 Republican primary.

The party's hard-right base has been reliable for Perry, and the anti-Washington talk is what they want to hear. It would all be very amusing little political operatta if it weren't for the fact that real people with real lives are getting chewed up the machinations.

Don't expect expressions of gratitude or even an acknowledgement that if it hadn't been for the stimulus package, Texans would have mighty sore feet because there would be no gift horse to ride.

URL: http://www.statesman.com


July 24

The Dallas Morning News on Exxon going green:

Exxon's often sharp-tongued skepticism about alternative fuel technologies would seem to make it an unlikely candidate to bankroll research designed to turn algae into fuel.

But in a hopeful sign that attitudes can change, Exxon just announced its first significant foray into biofuels research, a groundbreaking $600 million investment to turn algae into fuel. Its partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a California firm whose founder is best known for decoding human DNA, could shift biofuels' future away from products culled from food crops.

We're pleased that the Irving-based energy giant has put its considerable financial muscle and credibility behind biofuel technology because U.S. companies have trailed behind European firms in this work. The research needs Big Oil's deep pockets and commitments, and no domestic energy company has deeper pockets and more influence than Exxon.

While there is no guarantee of success and Exxon says the first large-scale commercial plants to produce algae-based fuels could be five to 10 years away the investment is well timed.

Right now, dozens of companies and universities are vying to find the most suitable strain of algae, the best way to grow it and how to mass-produce it economically. The federal government also is pressing for renewable energy and biofuel breakthroughs to lessen the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.

Corn-based ethanol, the most common biofuel in the United States, has lost some of its luster in recent months. Corn grown for fuel competes with what is produced for food and feedstock, resulting in shortages and rising grocery prices.

Algae-based fuel production would not interfere with the food cycle; nor would it require fresh or even clean water. It would use less land than corn-based ethanol and would consume carbon dioxide, a contributor to climate change. This opens the possibility for algae-to-fuel research having broader applications on initiatives designed to capture CO2 from cement and power plants.

Exxon also deserves praise for the innovative approach it is taking to this research. Instead of growing a plant that can be used as a fuel, Synthetic Genomics will try to produce an algae strain that can be turned into a hydrocarbon-like liquid and pumped through Exxon's pipelines and refineries and delivered to service stations. This isn't traditional biofuel production, but rather seeks to genetically engineer fuel to be used by cars, truck and planes without significant engine modifications.

Like any smart company, Exxon is looking to make a profit and has astutely picked this particular time and technology to mark its alternative energy turf. The company may have been painfully late to the competition, but now that it's on the field, the Exxon work looks to be a game-changer

URL: http://www.dallasnews.com


July 27

El Paso Times Staff on Texas' uncollected fees:

Texas is looking at nearly $1 billion in uncollected traffic-violation fees under the Driver Responsibility Program. Soon, Texas will be looking at the company responsible for collecting those fees, because Municipal Services Bureau, which has the collection contract, has brought in less than 40 percent of nearly $1.5 billion that's out there.

That's a lot of money that Texas could put to good use.

John Steen, commissioner with the Texas Public Safety Commission, said, "Can we do better? That's what we're looking into."

The TPSC will look into collections during its August meeting.

Admittedly, such collections aren't easy. El Paso struggles with collecting outstanding fines and other assessments. But not collecting fines presents an unfortunate message.

First, as mentioned, it deprives the state of money that's needed. It also effectively lets the violator off without having to pay the fee. That's not a good precedent, though driver's licenses can be suspended for unpaid bills. And, in fact, about 2.7 million Texas driver's licenses have been suspended for nonpayment.

The state program itself has come in for criticism because, foes say, the punitive fees are excessive and because the program victimizes the poor.

If there is legitimate concern, the program should be examined.

Meanwhile, those fines and surcharges are the law. The law should be enforced and the fees collected.

URL: http://www.elpasotimes.com


July 24

Fort Worth Star-Telegram on health care reform:

The health care debate is tailor-made for demagogues.

Radio and cable TV talk-show pontificators are proffering silly predictions of socialized medicine and rationed care and invoking the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Internal Revenue Service as models for what "government healthcare" will look like. Entertaining, but there is no basis in fact here.

ObamaCare is more of a slogan or rallying cry. The president has chosen to back certain long-term goals rather than a specific plan. This approach has strengths and weaknesses.

President Barack Obama has signaled that nearly everything is up for negotiation. His strategy certainly has a greater chance of success because he is attempting to shepherd a bottom-up process to create an organic legislative accord. Notably, President Bill Clinton’s top-down approach doomed healthcare reform in the early 1990s.

But Obama’s undue haste is counterproductive. By definition, collaboration takes more time. He knows historically the odds of reform shrink significantly in the second year of a presidential term because lawmakers become timid in a midterm election year. But induced urgency imperils his legislative goals and increases the chances for an ill-conceived plan. This is one-sixth of the U.S. economy we are talking about here.

Taxing healthcare benefits, creating a public insurance option, creating insurance mandates for individuals and business and striving for near-universal coverage are enormous separate issues. Attempting to resolve them collectively is daunting.

We are not backing a particular plan yet because the legislative process is too fluid. But here are 10 principles we will assert (today and tomorrow) about the debate and its outcome.

_ Don’t get too excited or concerned until a bipartisan coalition embraces a plan. We are far from that. There are constantly shifting alliances, with fiscally conservative Democrats swinging back and forth between the Republican and liberal Democratic camps.

_ The odds of transformational health reform remain slim. The United States has a long political tradition of incrementalism. We tweak; we don’t change. Too many political players have skin in this game. There will have to be winners and losers, and that's political dynamite. The perception of shared pain and meaningful gain is difficult to achieve. It is unprecedented that so many will be asked to sacrifice so much in a nonemergency situation. Lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, drug makers, insurance companies and medical device manufacturers are powerful and well-funded. So far, these stakeholders cautiously are saying the right things, but knives will be unsheathed as things get more serious.

_ Access and cost must be addressed simultaneously. Access for the uninsured without addressing cost is financially untenable. Addressing costs without access is morally wrong. The current fee-for-service medical model encourages waste and overuse of medical services. We need to pay for outcomes and quality rather than quantity. Obama espouses this frequently, but it is absent from the current legislation.

_ The Congressional Budget Office cost estimate is the elephant in the room. Its price tag on health reform is more than $1 trillion over 10 years. Reform advocates must present achievable cost savings and politically tenable tax increases to offset spending. Good luck with that.

_ Paying physicians less for services rendered is not the answer. Fewer physicians are taking Medicare and Medicaid patients, because government reimbursement is inadequate. Cutting reimbursements to save money while expanding government insurance eligibility makes no sense. New physicians, weighed down by mortgage-sized student loans, continue to hang their shingles in insurance-rich affluent areas or pursue more highly paid specialties the opposite of what needs to happen.

_ Beware of fake savings. Obama claimed that a greater emphasis on prevention would produce $80 billion in savings. Prevention is the right thing to do; it improves outcomes. But mass screening and immunization are expensive. The people who need it most are the least likely to get it. He claimed similar savings with widespread adoption of electronic medical records while conveniently ignoring the upfront costs. Prevention and EMR will improve the nation's health, but any savings are too distant and unproven to be counted now.

_ What about the children? Obama talked during his presidential campaign about insuring all children, but we haven't heard much since. Covering children is a relatively cheap, sound investment. Research shows that chronically ill children with inadequate care fall behind in school and have lifelong health and economic disadvantages. Oddly, Americans consider childhood education a public good, but child health an individual or family responsibility. The two should not be separated.

_ Healthcare economic principles do not operate like the rest of the economy, yet we act as if they do. Healthcare is supplier-driven: You generally do what your doctor recommends. Patients do not shop for the lowest-cost doctor, especially when they are sick and there is no easy way to find out what things cost. Consumer-driven healthcare advocates minimize these factors. For those with too little or no insurance, demand is driven by what's in their wallets. One final point: Unlike many consumer goods, more expensive health is not better healthcare; it only costs more.

_ Healthcare policy and medical care are overrated determinants of health. This is frequently lost in the debate. An estimated 10-15 percent of one's health is based on medical care. Life expectancy increased about 30 years during the 20th century. We can thank public health measures for most of that: sanitary food and water; cleaner air; immunizations; better housing. An overwhelming amount of research indicates two factors linked to health and life expectancy: education and income. The bottom 40 percent holds less than 1 percent of the nation's wealth, which is the problem. Arguably, funding for education, the environment and social services impact health as much or more than "health policy."

_ The only way truly to cut healthcare costs is to decrease demand. Individual diet, exercise and behavior are factors. But the truth comes in the doctor's examining room: How disciplined will you and your doctor be about not overusing the healthcare system because someone else is footing the bill? Nearly a third of healthcare spending is wasted this way. Ultimately, cutting healthcare costs is up to us. The health reform debate is only about the rules of the game.

URL: http://www.star-telegram.com



July 27

San Antonio Express-News on gun smuggling:

The recent congressional testimony of Bill McMahon, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, provided some enlightening information about the deadly drug war in Mexico.

A large proportion of the guns being used in that war originate in the United States. Mexican authorities have submitted 20,000 of the 100,000 firearms they've seized from the cartels to ATF for tracing. The bureau found 90 percent of those weapons were manufactured, imported or sold in the United States.

Is this a representative sample?

Possibly not.

But to argue that American guns aren't making a major contribution to the drug cartel violence in Mexico is to ignore reality.

The biggest problem isn't with gun dealers. Only 44 percent of the U.S. weapons could be traced backed to purchases at federally licensed dealers.

The rest came from informal transactions, including those at gun shows.

Curbing the flow of guns isn't only in Mexico's interest. The cartels and their drug distribution networks in the United States pose a security threat on this side of the border as well.

McMahon's testimony points out the need for increased emphasis on southbound inspections at the U.S.-Mexico border. And it remains, of course, important for U.S. authorities to work to prevent narcotics from entering the United States.

But it is equally important to prevent guns and cash from entering Mexico and empowering the cartels.

The ATF analysis also demonstrates why it's necessary for all gun sales in the United States to be subject to the same background checks and documentation requirements.

Anyone with criminal intent, including those looking for a fast buck by illegally transporting weapons across the border, can buy guns off the street.

That's no excuse to make it easier for them to break the law and harder for law enforcement to track them down.

URL: http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/Stop(underscore)southbound(underscore)gun(underscore)smuggling.html

Joule Biotechnologies Unveils Liquid Fuel From Solar Power

First came corn and cane as biomass for renewable fuel, then cellulosic materials and algae. Now Joule Biotechnologies Inc. has emerged from stealth mode with a recipe for making transportation fuel without biomass by simply harnessing solar power and carbon-dioxide emissions.

joule_E_20090727163306.jpgJoule Biotechnologies

The Cambridge, Mass.-based start-up, which is backed by its founders and venture-capital firm Flagship Ventures, has developed a technology using microorganisms that make fuels and chemicals from the photosynthetic conversion of sunlight and CO2. Joule’s scientists incorporated solar converters into the technology to optimize the process that makes what the company calls “solar fuel.”

“We’re not a biofuel company, because biofuels are biomass-derived; our technology leverages a highly synthetic organism to create transportation fuels and chemicals,” said Bill Sims, Joule’s chief executive. “We don’t have an intermediary that has to be grown or transported, it’s a direct-to-product process.”

Biofuel technology developers are rushing to meet the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, which calls for the production and blending of up to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the gasoline supply by 2022. Of that total, 21 billion gallons are to come from advanced fuels – meaning they have to be made from non-food sources, but the technologies used in production of cellulosic and algae-based ethanol are yet to be scaled up to commercial level.

Joule’s process can yield 20,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year, said Sims, at a cost of around $50 a barrel including existing subsidies. Its process is designed in a modular fashion so it can be easily expanded for large-scale production of fuels and chemicals. The initial focus of the venture will be ethanol, said Sims.

The company has been operating in stealth mode for two years; Joule will turn out its first product, solar ethanol, from a pilot plant next year. After that, it will seek funding from investors and strategic partners to reach industrial scale, said Sims.

Joule didn’t disclose how much money it has raised so far from Flagship Ventures.

The company has applied for a U.S. Department of Energy grant under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program, which focuses on “high risk, high payoff concepts,” according to the DOE’s Web site.

Sims declined to give more details on the microorganisms for competitive reasons, saying further information about the production process will be made public once the patent is registered. He said the raw material is “not algae, not cellulose, not corn,” but rather “highly-engineered photosynthetic organisms.”

Prior to joining the start-up last year, Sims was the chief executive of Color Kinetics Inc., a developer of light-emitting diodes that was acquired by Royal Philips Electronics in 2007 for approximately $800 million.