September 23, 2009

Trade, Algae and Rocket Science

By Ron Kotrba

As I write this editor’s note the morning after Labor Day, it is still tough to get my mind around the fact that summer is virtually gone. While most of September is technically summer, the month brings with it the aura of change. After its long hiatus, football returns to sports’ center stage. The air feels a little crisper.

I imagine many feel that the summer was too short. There is always so much to do, but never enough time to do it. I was well aware of this going into the Labor Day weekend, so I made a concerted effort to organize the tools and equipment in my Quonset. For those of you who don’t know what a Quonset is, it is a shed that looks like half of a huge cylinder sticking above ground, typically used by farmers for machinery storage and maintenance. Surprisingly, the chore was not so terrible—actually it was kind of fun, in a way, going through years of junk and disarray—and afterwards I wondered why I had procrastinated over the years.

In Biodiesel Magazine, a topic we’ve put off covering for some time is algae, mostly because of the difficulty in ascertaining legitimate progress from mumbo jumbo investor hype. To tell the truth, I am skeptical of many claims by companies working on algae cultivation and oil extraction. In the past, this magazine may have been guilty of giving too much coverage to algae, while at the same time not understanding the particulars well enough. But after the recent bombardment of news about companies and government agencies such as ExxonMobil and NASA spending hundreds of millions of dollars in algae research, assistant editor Susanne Retka Schill and I began talking about how to approach a grounded feature article on algae. The result is her story titled, “The Promise and the Reality,” on page 44. Check it out and let Retka Schill know what you think.

The theme of this month’s issue though, is trade. In writing a featured article on international trade and genetically modified organisms (GMO), associate editor Nicholas Zeman learned of an interesting development that was unfolding in real time. A ship loaded with intermodal containers of soybean meal was refused EU entry at a Spanish port, not because of problems with the soybean meal itself but because testing revealed containers tainted with GMO corn dust. Zeman raises some interesting points on this topic in “Mixed Signals,” on page 40.

In a separate article, Zeman gives a thorough rundown of project development activity and biodiesel markets in Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, Malaysia, China and Japan. Biodiesel is a globally traded fuel, and what’s happening in eastern and southeastern Asia impacts those on the other side of the planet. Read “Pacific Rim Panorama” on page 36 for the full story.

Lastly, Retka Schill provides an overview of the collaborative effort between the U.S. Navy, Biodiesel Industries and more recent partner Aerojet Inc., an aerospace company that helped land man on the moon and maneuver the international space station. With Aerojet’s involvement, the partnership is making strides in automation, process controls and remote controllability. Read “Rocket Science Meets Biodiesel” on page 30. And enjoy the cool, crisp autumn weather while it lasts.

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