October 10, 2009

Will biofuel from algae look like Big Oil or Big Agriculture?

Hundreds of companies and laboratories are racing to find an economical way to make “green crude” from algae. The biofuel industry is grappling with a series of hurdles, which players readily recognized at a summit this week in San Diego and we cover in this story.

One question asked by one of the sector’s early leaders is will biofuel from algae look like Big Oil or Big Agriculture.

Steve Mayfield, who directs a new center for algae biotechnology at the University of California, San Diego, believes it should be more like agriculture.

“We’re not going to grow it in the lab … We are going to grow it on rice patties,” Mayfield said at the Algae Biomass Summit in San Diego.

Mayfield also helped found Sapphire Energy, a privately held company that has pulled in $100 million from venture capitalists. The company is looking at gene-based techniques to create a strain of algae that can be grown and harvested on a massive scale.

“What we need to do is domesticate algae. We are taking wild type strains and asking them to do what never was asked to do or evolved to do in the wild,” Mayfield said, pointing to how genetic changes have boosted crop yields.

No comments: