It seems that not only is ExxonMobil putting a ton of money into algae as a fuel source (as I mentioned yesterday) but so is the Department of Energy. In this case, it’s “only” $85 million, much less than ExxonMobil’s $600M, that’s still a significant amount of cash. Does this mean that there’s more to the idea of using algae to make fuel than we first thought?
Before we get into that, let’s just have a brief review of what using algae-as-fuel hope to accomplish. As I understand it, you can grow algae at a ferocious rate and the right strains of algae produce a lot of ethanol (or ethanol-like) compounds that can then be refined into fuel that can then be poured into our gas tanks. Will it work? Well, in the last two days, ExxonMobil and the DoE are betting almost 700 million dollars that it will.
The press release from the DoE starts out like this:
“The DOE is seeking to bring together leading scientists and engineers from universities, private industry, and government to develop new methods to bring new biofuels to market in an accelerated timeframe.”
And more importantly the DoE goes on to say, “The partnerships will enable cross-fertilization between multiple disciplines and provide the breadth of expertise necessary to develop new technologies advanced biofuels that can be used in today’s fueling infrastructure such as green aviation fuels, green gasoline, and green diesel from a variety of biomass feedstocks.”
And that, in a nutshell, is both a prime example of the concept of big science, and also why government funding and government lead initiatives are definitely the way to go on something like this. Right there in the phrase: “bring together leading scientists and engineers from universities, private industry, and government”. If, and this is a big if, we can get a sustained and coordinated effort into making algae derived “gasoline”, it could be an answer to a lot of our prayers.
Photo from Flickr user Rosa y Dani