Large-scale biofuel farm using algae goes online


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Algae looks pretty disgusting in the old swimming pool pictured above, but the power of algae is now being harnessed by those hoping to exploit it as a powerful biofuel. Fortune has an interesting article about a huge new biofuel farm in New Mexico.

On a 2,200-acre expanse of desert scrub in Columbus, N.M. (pop. 1,678), Sapphire Energy has built the world’s first large-scale farm to grow algae and produce crude oil. The five-year-old company has spent about $60 million constructing an array of about 70 ponds, each the size of a football field, and a refinery, which began producing oil this past summer. The first barrels are rolling out now.

Algal oil “has the potential to change the world,” says Cynthia Warner, Sapphire’s chief executive, because the process by which it is grown will allow any nation to produce oil. Warner joined Sapphire after 28 years in the oil business, most recently as head of global refining at BP (BP). She couldn’t resist the allure of algae. Productive and versatile creatures, they grow fast, don’t need to be fed, and build up oil in their cells after being exposed to sunlight and CO2. They like salty or brackish water, so ponds can be built on cheap land where not much else will grow. Into each pond go genetically engineered single-celled algae that grow to maturity in about five days, after which they are skimmed from the water and put through a thermo-chemical “wet extraction” process to separate the oil. The company plans to make about 100 barrels of oil a day in New Mexico. If all goes according to plan, commercial production of perhaps 10,000 barrels a day will begin in 2018.

A ton of money has been plowed into the green space as venture capitalists try to capitalize on the desire for clean energy and renewable fuels. Read the rest of the article to get more information on this project. It will be fascinating to see if this project becomes economically viable. In an era where fracking is lowering the costs of natural gas and increasing oil output in the United States, it will be more difficult for projects like this to make money without subsidies.

America’s energy future

Robert J. Samuelson is usually a grouch when it comes to economics and energy. That includes his harsh skepticism on the ability to do something about global warming.

He’s actually rather optimistic about America’s energy future, but he notes that renewables will not be as big a part of our energy future as environmentalists would want. Coal, natural gas and oil will still be important parts of the energy equation.

Investing in a green future

With the budget battle raging in Washington, our investments in a green future are in jeopardy. President Obama wants to make responsible cuts to spending while preserving our investments in clean energy that can help us gain energy independence and a greener future. Here’s President Obama from his weekly radio address:

Both Democrats and Republicans believe we need to reduce the deficit. That’s where we agree. The question we’re debating is how we do it. I’ve proposed a balanced approach that cuts spending while still investing in things like education and clean energy that are so critical to creating jobs and opportunities for the middle class. It’s a simple idea: we need to live within our means while at the same time investing in our future.

That’s why I disagree so strongly with a proposal in Congress that cuts our investments in clean energy by 70 percent. Yes, we have to get rid of wasteful spending—and make no mistake, we’re going through every line of the budget scouring for savings. But we can do that without sacrificing our future. We can do that while still investing in the technologies that will create jobs and allow the United States to lead the world in new industries. That’s how we’ll not only reduce the deficit, but also lower our dependence on foreign oil, grow the economy, and leave for our children a safer planet. And that’s what our mission has to be.

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Stay involved. Remember that the decisions you make at the ballot box have real implications for your lives.

Exciting times

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We’re launching this blog at a time that’s very exciting for those of us who want to see a greener future for America and the world. For years we have relied on abundant but dirty energy. Now we’re seeing the ill effects of these practices.

Due to a number of factors ranging from global warming to our dependence on foreign oil, a consensus is building around the notion that we need to change things here at home. There will be plenty of discussion and disagreement around the specifics, but most agree that we can make tremendous progress by encouraging conservation and renewable fuels.

The House just passed a cap-and-trade bill, so the debate will be heating up. We hope to contribute by highlighting information and arguments that will help advance the debate.

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