Algae-based oil as silly as heavier-than-air flight

wright

“Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.”

– British physicist Lord Kelvin

“New ideas pass through three periods:
1) It can’t be done.
2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing.
3) I knew it was a good idea all along!”

– Arthur C. Clarke

——————————

Sapphire Energy, a startup company trying to commercialize the use of algae as an energy source to replace oil, last week announced $144 million in new investments.

As MIT’s Technology Review reports:

“The new funding will allow Sapphire to finish building its algae farm, near the small town of Columbus, New Mexico, just north of the U.S.–Mexico border. A 100-acre segment of the farm has already been finished, and when the whole project is complete, by 2014, Sapphire will have the capacity to produce about 1.5 million gallons of algae crude oil, which can be shipped to refineries to make chemicals and fuels such as diesel and gasoline….

Sapphire hopes to lower the cost of producing algae fuels by changing every part of the production process. That includes increasing the quality and the amount of oil produced, reducing the cost of building ponds, and developing low-cost ways to harvest the oil. The company aims to have a product that’s competitive with oil priced at $85 per barrel, and it expects to meet this goal once it reaches full-scale production in about six years. Oil costs over $100 a barrel now.”

There’s no guarantee of success, of course. Based on current technology, algae-derived diesel would be several times more expensive than diesel refined from petroleum. In other words, the technology is in Step #2 in Arthur C. Clarke’s progression, with no assurance it will ever reach #3.

And it’s not an experiment that private investors are willing and able to support on their own. While private partners such as Monsanto and Arrowpoint Partners, a Denver-based venture capital firm, have invested heavily in the company, the federal government accounts for $105 million of the $300 million that Sapphire has raised so far.

Is that a wasted investment? Even if Sapphire proves a total failure, the answer would be no. Not when you consider the hundreds of billions of dollars that we ship overseas every year to buy naturally occurring petroleum. Not when you consider the lives and hundreds of billions in tax dollars invested in our military to help guarantee access to that oil. Not when you consider the environmental impact of burning carbon-based fuels for energy.

Given all that, it would be foolish not to seek alternatives, and it would be foolish for government not to try to push the technology to commercial viability. Government subsidized the building of the railroads; it was the “angel investor” that brought the Internet into being. More than a third of the medical research undertaken in this country is government-funded; the polio vaccine, among many others, was created with federal funding. And other countries, including China, have no compunction whatsoever about investing in new-generation energy technologies.

It is inconceivable to me that the United States, a country whose prosperity has been built in large part on technological superiority and whose leaders speak endlessly about reaching energy independence, would cease striving to develop alternative energy sources. Those who argue in favor of doing would forfeit the future to others more willing to take a chance.

– Jay Bookman

545 comments Add your comment

Brosephus™

April 10th, 2012
10:10 am

Bro. If there was ever an era of competent government, it ended long ago.

Yep, soon as the current wave of conservatism swept into power. I’d estimate around the time Reagan took office.

What’s so funny about this is you get on here any and rave about how stupid the government is frequently

Grasshopper, you must pay close attention to the words I speak if you ever wish to take the pebble from my hand. I don’t rave about stupid government. I rant about stupid politicians. Those two things are NOT the same. I have worked from within the government long enough to know that much of the problem is not the workers themselves, but it is the rules and environment they are required to work within that causes the issues. Also, I don’t just limit my rants to Republicans. If you ever notice, I’ll usually say ALL politicians because I don’t trust them any farther than I can throw them.

I’m not smoking anything, and you are the one that needs to pay more attention. I’m very steady when it comes to my displeasure with elected officials.

Paul

April 10th, 2012
10:11 am

ragnar

“Dear Fred @ 9:58, nothing you have posted makes government-as-venture-capitalist make any sense. The community organizer simply does not have that sort of training, he is an attorney and is financially illiterate.”

By that line of reasoning, we shouldn’t have a National Institute of Health or the Centers for Disease Control as the president is not a physician.

Doggone/GA

April 10th, 2012
10:11 am

“Need sheetz!”

Here you go: http://www.sheetz.com/main/

Fred ™

April 10th, 2012
10:12 am

once the infrastructure was up and running it wouldn’t be long before the oil co’s and the utility companies would start COMPETING for the market……….. if they balk then foreign companies would come in and spur them

Ahhhhh you can always spot the talk radio “educated” folks. No mention of the fact that the oil companies are FOREIGN OWNED or that the refineries are FOREIGN OWNED lol.

No real facts anywhere in there, just a really nice sounding fairy tale……….

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:12 am

Dear Paul @ 10:06, you make the error of citing an individual-endorsement as proof of the “genius” of an idea. Most of us conservatives thought President Bush erroneously wasted money on futile projects, mostly non-military. To the extent that this algae-alchemy is attributable to former President Bush, it was a bad idea. I understand leftists think President Obama would not embrace bad ideas of President Bush, but they err.

Dear Fred @ 10:07, you obviously think the community organizer in chief is a primo venture capitalist. I continue to disagree.

Dear Joe @ 10:07, we agree that military research into military applications is often productive. “Algae” fits that mold only to the extent that one blocks development of normal proven resources.

Adam

April 10th, 2012
10:13 am

Fred ™

April 10th, 2012
10:14 am

Holy beejeebers Did Jay go out and tie one on last night or something? It’s time for some new sheets. At LEAST open a damn window and air this place out. The stench of BS (kobe or not) is over powering.

Jm

April 10th, 2012
10:14 am

JHM not entirely but close

Now you know the scale of the problem

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:14 am

Dear Fred @ 10:11, I agree with the idea of abolishing NIH.

Doggone/GA

April 10th, 2012
10:14 am

“By that line of reasoning, we shouldn’t have a National Institute of Health or the Centers for Disease Control as the president is not a physician”

Nor is he an aerospace engineer – we should have NASA. He’s not a park ranger – we shouldn’t have nation parks. He’s not a professional forester – we shouldn’t have nation forests either.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:15 am

Dear Paul @ 10:11, I apologize for calling you Fred @ 10:14. Simple apology for what could otherwise be actionable slander.

Fred ™

April 10th, 2012
10:15 am

And Ragsie continues to be delusional lol. Well I was bored this morning so I addressed him.

Fred ™

April 10th, 2012
10:16 am

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:15 am

Dear Paul @ 10:11, I apologize for calling you Fred @ 10:14. Simple apology for what could otherwise be actionable slander.
++++++++++++++++++++++

So now Ragsie attempts insults to divert from his lies. Sweet.

He’s so simple to poke holes in.

Paul

April 10th, 2012
10:16 am

ragnar

It wasn’t President Bush’s bad idea. It was the military services who originated the idea as a result of their assessment of world oil supply sources.

You really should read a bit before you put forth as a knowledgeable commentator..

Unless you just like the attention.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:16 am

Dear Adam @ 10:13, please tell us this was academia on its own, without government funding.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:17 am

R. Danneskjold — “Dear Joe @ 10:07, we agree that military research into military applications is often productive. “Algae” fits that mold only to the extent that one blocks development of normal proven resources.”

Rejected. As the capitalist evergreen saying goes, success is not finite. The success of one program does not prevent or inhibit the success of another.

Besides, are you really suggesting that biochemical research into algal fuels is somehow preventing the search for and assessment of petroleum reserves? I don’t think that’s what you mean to say, but it certainly seems to be what you’re suggesting.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:17 am

Dear Paul @ 10:16, if President Bush did not “originate” the idea, he is culpable under respondeat superior. No mercy for waste.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:19 am

Jm — “JHM not entirely but close”

It doesn’t even come close. The entire ten years worth of estimated savings doesn’t even cover ONE YEAR worth of deficit spending under the Ryan plan.

“Now you know the scale of the problem”

I already KNOW the scale of the problem. And both sides are acting like it doesn’t exist.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:19 am

Dear Joe @ 10:17, fair analysis, what I attempt to communicate is that “people investing their own monies” are more likely to invest wisely than those who play with “other people’s money.” Government ought not be a venture capitalist. If Monsanto wants to spend their money, have at it. Don’t raise taxes in order to waste taxpayer monies.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:20 am

Doggone — “Nor is he an aerospace engineer – we should have NASA. He’s not a park ranger – we shouldn’t have nation parks. He’s not a professional forester – we shouldn’t have nation forests either.”

But Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house! :D

(yes, I know she didn’t actually say it, but I thought it was funny)

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:21 am

The biggest potential payoff in energy research is in nuclear fusion. Nobody can afford it, nobody really has an idea how to make it work. Thus government spends.

Brosephus™

April 10th, 2012
10:22 am

Unless you just like the attention.

I’d go that route if I were you. Just sayin’…

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:24 am

R. Danneskjold — “Government ought not be a venture capitalist. If Monsanto wants to spend their money, have at it. Don’t raise taxes in order to waste taxpayer monies.”

No venture is guaranteed; even private capital falls short more often than it picks a winner.

If you’re objecting to ‘waste’ in investment or venture schemes, then you should be in support of putting Glass-Steagall back in place in order to prevent investment banks from ‘wasting’ Federally-insured depositor monies. Permitting them to place risky bets with depositor monies and then leaving taxpayers on the hook for bad investment bets is ALSO not a government function.

barking frog

April 10th, 2012
10:24 am

Jay now has the morning and evening edition an old newspaper tradition.

Jm

April 10th, 2012
10:25 am

JHM

The 10 year deficit projection is between $7 trillion and $4 trillion depending on which assumption set you use.

The Ryan plan would essentially fix the deficit by bringing it to manageable levels. I’d love it if we ran a surplus, but I’m just asking for some sanity at the moment.

Adam

April 10th, 2012
10:25 am

Dear Adam @ 10:13, please tell us this was academia on its own, without government funding.

Good lord. That was supposed to be FUNNY, not political.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:26 am

Dear Joe @ 10:24, no rational soul would want more government control – Glass-Steagall is a marvelous example of mindless government constraint.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:27 am

Dear Adam @ 10:25, if it were not true it would be funny. I did not notice – was this The Onion?

Adam

April 10th, 2012
10:30 am

The funny part is – Super Mario is proven by computer science to be hard. Maybe I just find it humorous in a “Duh!” sense. Or maybe it’s just “if you have to explain it…”

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:31 am

R. Danneskjold — “Dear Joe @ 10:24, no rational soul would want more government control – Glass-Steagall is a marvelous example of mindless government constraint.”

So are you saying that you’re in favor of allowing investment banks to make risky investment bets with depository bank monies, and then when those bets go south, to lay the losses off onto the FDIC?

If so, then it seems that your complaints about ‘wasting government funds’ are all BS, because you’re giving banks a pass to do exactly that.

Brosephus™

April 10th, 2012
10:33 am

Doggone/GA

April 10th, 2012
10:33 am

“(yes, I know she didn’t actually say it, but I thought it was funny)”

Yep, it was funny…but not half as funny as the justification that she had international experience because you can see Russia from Alaska (which, on a clear day, and on the right spot…you can)

Intown

April 10th, 2012
10:34 am

Good points Bookman.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:34 am

Dear Joe @ 10:31, where did you get the idea that I thought the Paulson-Geithner bail out of Goldman Sachs was beneficial to the US taxpayer? Typical overlord manipulation of the market, such as the topic today.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:36 am

Dear Joe @ 10:34, the institutionalization of “too-big-to-fail” did not become law until the Obama administration, with Dodd-Frank. Another bad idea.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:39 am

R. Danneskjold — “Dear Joe @ 10:31, where did you get the idea that I thought the Paulson-Geithner bail out of Goldman Sachs was beneficial to the US taxpayer? Typical overlord manipulation of the market, such as the topic today.”

I said nothing about the bailout. Please pay attention, Rags.

Glass-Steagall placed a wall between institutions with both depository and investment branches. It prevented the investment activity from using depositor funds for riskier investments. The repeal of Glass-Steagall gave investment banks the green light to go ahead and use depositors’ money for risky investment bets like CDOs and the like — and when those banks failed, they just laid the losses off onto the FDIC, so we the taxpayers ended up footing the bill for the risky bank bets.

In short, you seem to have a big problem with government ‘wasting’ taxpayer money, but no problem at all with *businesses* ‘wasting; taxpayer money. Perhaps you could clarify your position in that regard.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:41 am

R. Danneskjold — “Dear Joe @ 10:34, the institutionalization of “too-big-to-fail” did not become law until the Obama administration, with Dodd-Frank. Another bad idea.”

Rejected. That notion’s been around for much, much longer, and supported by governments led by both parties.

I’m interested in *your* position, not the government’s. Frankly, I think you’re either a hypocrite or else you’re uninformed on this topic and don’t really realize what you’re saying.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:44 am

Dear Joe @ 10:39, until Glass-Steagall no investment bank had a grip on taxpayer money. It is only modern leftism that thinks big private entities should have taxpayer support, and government control.

Glass Steagall was a response to a false issue, the oft-repeated lie that the “stock market crash” caused the Great Depression. Six months after the stock market crash, the unemployment rate was still 6%. It was only when the government started to intervene in the market that the problem turned “long-term.”

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:45 am

Dear Joe @ 10:41, did my 10:44 answer your query? I have a much longer version that is good reading.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
10:46 am

R. Danneskjold — “Dear Joe @ 10:39, until Glass-Steagall no investment bank had a grip on taxpayer money. It is only modern leftism that thinks big private entities should have taxpayer support, and government control.”

Fail. The *repeal* of Glass-Steagall permitted investment banks to lay off their losses (with depositor money) onto the FDIC.

Never mind, Rags, I have my answer. You’re not a hypocrite on this issue, primarily because you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. Have a nice day.

ragnar danneskjold

April 10th, 2012
10:48 am

Dear Joe @ 10:46, you err – Dodd-Frank is what gives investment banks Federal protection.

Joe Hussein Mama

April 10th, 2012
11:46 am

R. Danneskjold — “Dear Joe @ 10:46, you err – Dodd-Frank is what gives investment banks Federal protection.”

You err. Glass-Steagall placed a barricade between investment and depository banking. When it was repealed, it only took a few years for investment bankers to blow through depositors’ money on bad investment bets and then tell the FDIC ‘it’s your problem now.’

Dodd-Frank was a halfhearted, after-the-fact attempt to put the Glass-Steagall protections back in place. You have some reading to do, Rags.

fatalgae

April 10th, 2012
1:53 pm

Exxon investment in algae $600m

Bill Gates investment in algae $100m

Think Exxon and Bill Gates have been had?

kelly

April 10th, 2012
3:36 pm

I, for one, am happy that my tax dollars go for things besides the war machine. The government has always played a role supporting research in partnership with the private sector. From medicine, to space travel, to atomic energy. We cannot put our heads in the sand because we don’t like a particular project or because of alleged cronyism. Do you think military contractors are not cronies? This country is supposed to be a joint venture, with all of us contributing.

R Hauge

April 12th, 2012
12:06 pm

Origin Oil (OOIL) released an article several weeks ago stating that Gas or Diesel to be processed for $2.28 per gal. They have a cheap single step extraction, no chemicals, wet harvest, that they will lic. to other companies. This doable Now, for the companies wanting to do business with them.
They just released a test model for companies to try out.