April 8, 2010

Interview with Algal Biomass Organization's Executive Director Mary Rosenthal [Part I of Three Part Series]

This is the first of a three part interview with Mary Rosenthal, the executive director of the Algal Biomass Organization.

Robert Gluck: Ms. Rosenthal, what is your background and how did you arrive at the Algal Biomass Organization?

Mary Rosenthal: For the last twenty-plus years, I have spent time in a variety of roles in the food industry – ranging from business development to marketing to public affairs. For the five years just prior to joining the Algal Biomass Organization (ABO), I was the marketing and public affairs leader for the leading bioplastics company, Natureworks LLC – a wholly owned business unit of Cargill.

RG: What can you tell me about the ABO and its history? What is the mission of the Algal Biomass Organization?

MR: The Algal Biomass Organization is a non-profit trade association that was founded in 2008 with a goal of promoting the development of viable commercial markets for renewable and sustainable products derived from algae.

Currently, we have more than 170 members, and our membership is comprised of people, companies and organizations across the value chain, including scientists, technology developers, legal and finance experts, producers, and end users.

RG: In January 2010 your organization challenged the conclusions of a published report in Environmental Science and Technology claiming that "conventional crops have lower environmental impacts than algae in energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and water."

If, in fact, as your organization stated, the report in ES&T was based upon obsolete data and grossly outdated business models, as well as overlooked improvements in technology and processes across the production cycle, then can you point to your report or a report showing new data and new business models that disprove their point? If so, what is that report and can you briefly fill us in on some of that data?

MR: The ABO and its members do believe that University of Virginia study in ES&T was based on obsolete data and outdated business models and that it overlooked significant improvements in technology and production processes.

As part of its Final Rule on the recently implemented Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), the EPA found that algae-based biodiesel and renewable diesel reduce emissions by at least 50% compared to petroleum-based diesel.

This determination was based on a methodology that included an analysis of the full life-cycle of algae-based fuels, and provides further support that algae-based fuels provide significantly greater carbon reductions compared to corn-based ethanol.

In addition, many of our member companies have conducted comprehensive cradle-to-grave life cycle analysis (LCA) studies that have shown that algae-based fuels provided carbon reductions upwards of 60%. In understanding a solid LCA, it is specific to process (cradle) and final end use (grave).

Therefore, a LCA for company A with a certain end-use such as jet fuels will be different from an LCA of company B that has a different end-use. With the variety of different algae production methods from open ponds to closed photo bioreactors to fermentation, there currently isn’t harmonization of data to provide an “industry” LCA.

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