February 28, 2012

Why Did Obama's Favorite Algae Biofuels Company Break Up With Dow?

An innovative algae biofuels company favored by Obama’s Energy Department was also once a darling of Dow Chemical.

But Florida’s Algenol Biofuels ended its partnership with Dow in 2010, shifting its pilot project from Dow facilities in Freeport, Texas, to Algenol’s laboratories in Lee County, Florida.

“Algenol felt that Dow had contributed as much as it could,” Algenol CEO Paul Woods said in an e-mail.

Algenol's plastic bioreactors prevent water from evaporating and collect ethanol naturally produced and released by algae.

President Obama highlighted algae as an vehicle fuel source in an energy address he delivered at the University of Miami last Thursday, drawing mockery over the weekend from Newt Gingrich and other conservatives.

Algenol Biofuels was behind the reference, having received $25 million in stimulus funds to develop an innovative process for collecting ethanol naturally emitted by living algae.

Dow touted the process as its own in this 2009 press release:

In line with Dow’s sustainability efforts, the project exemplifies the Company’s commitment to providing solutions that improve energy efficiency, promote renewable energy and advance the environmental performance of its existing energy sources. According to Rich Wells, Dow vice president, Energy & Climate Change and Alternative Feedstocks, “This is yet another way that Dow is helping to solve world energy challenges with our expertise in sustainable chemistry that is good for the world, and good for business.”

via Dow Announces Plan to Build and Operate a Pilot-Scale Algae-based.

Dow was terse about the breakup this week, sending this official statement via email:

Dow and Algenol mutually agreed to terminate the Joint Development Agreement between our companies. Dow leaves open a positive relationship and the opportunity for future sales of film and plastic developed during the program.

The company did not respond to a request for elaboration.

But Algenol Biofuels CEO Paul Woods did:

Algenol felt that the development agreement had run its course and that Dow’s help in developing its plastic photobioreactors was completed. Algenol wanted to use different partners to further develop its plastics and photobioreactors and to no longer be open to sharing its intellectual property with Dow.

Algenol grows blue green algae in saltwater in sealed plastic bioreactors. The containers prevent water from evaporating—a problem that has dogged more conventional efforts to produce ethanol from algae. A government study concluded those conventional efforts require up to 350 gallons of fresh water for each gallon of algal ethanol.

The study also found that domestic ethanol produced from algae could replace 17 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Original article available here.

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